Survey: Korean Businesses Don’t Yet Have Their Heads in the Cloud

A new study conducted by Microsoft has come to the rather surprising conclusion that when it comes to cloud computing, Korean businesses are among the biggest laggards in the Asia-Pacific region.

The study — which covered Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Korea — found that on a five-point scale gauging how well businesses understood cloud computing (with five the highest), Korea scored just 2.7, placing it second last ahead of Thailand.

Most starkly, the survey found that fully 70 percent of small businesses (defined as having 50 PCs or fewer) either didn’t know cloud computing well or didn’t know about it at all. Most such companies, it said, also didn’t have in-house IT specialists, nor did they have easy access to support personnel.

In Australia, which came joint first in the rankings, 45 percent of responding CEOs or IT specialists said that they clearly understood cloud computing, while 35 percent said they had already installed cloud computing services. By contrast, just 18 percent of Korean CEOs and IT specialists said they had a good understanding of the cloud. These results, however, disguised big differences between large companies (with more than 500 PCs), where 73 percent of respondents said they “knew about cloud computing,” and medium-sized companies (fewer than 500 PCs), where just 3 percent of respondents said they “knew cloud computing well.”

From left to right, the pie charts below show results from small, medium-sized and large Korean companies when asked their familiarity with cloud computing. The dark blue represents “don’t know at all,” red is “don’t know,” green is “heard of it,” purple is “know it,” light blue is “know it well,” and orange is “no response.”

In a very illuminating part of the study, the results showed that the more ignorant a company was of cloud computing, the more likely it was to believe that it would have a negative impact on the company’s IT department.

Some 64 percent and 75 percent of respondents from Korea and Thailand, the two countries with the lowest understanding of the cloud, said that they expected cloud computing to wield a negative influence on their IT departments. For big companies in Korea, that figure rose to 76 percent.

In Australia and New Zealand, these doubts dropped to between 10 and 20 percent. (The graph immediately below is about Korea, with 34 percent of respondents saying that cloud computing does not have a negative impact. The one below that covers Australia.)

korea

According to one cloud computing specialist in Korea:

We go to companies to introduce cloud computing, but the more junior staff come up with 100 reasons why it can’t be done. In reality, the working groups have just decided not to do anything about it.

The reason for this antipathy at lower levels, it seems, is a widespread belief that adopting cloud computing is primarily a means for companies to cut costs — and lay off staff. As for CEOs or senior IT staff, they cite “security” (30 percent), “management” (19 percent) and “price” (19 percent) as the main reasons for their reluctance to adopt cloud computing.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on the impact of cloud computing on staffing levels, but Bloter quotes Federico Eto, a professor of economics at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, as saying:

If you adopt cloud computing, far from leading to reductions in IT manpower, it actually creates employment and has positive macroeconomic effects.

On first blush — given Korea’s often dizzying prowess in high tech industries, broadband, etc — these results may seem rather perplexing. However, when seen in light of Korea’s particular brand of ambivalence to big business, and its stubborn persistence with some antiquated technological models, it perhaps makes more sense.

Still, it is easy to imagine that once cloud computing does gain some traction in Korea, it will be seized on with the same zeal as iPhones, apps and internet startups.

A Couple of Quickies: Kakao Talk for BlackBerry Inches Closer; Nate, Cyworld Seal Tie-in With LiveRe Comments Service

The long awaited BlackBerry version of Kakao Talk has taken one more baby step toward fruition.

RIM has announced plans to run a trial service on BlackBerries for 10 days beginning June 27. The test service will be available to around 200 users and, barring hiccups, the full-fledged official version will be released at the beginning of next month.

Korea’s BlackBerry users have been busy Tweeting their approval though some are holding back on celebrations until the service actually arrives.

Meanwhile, SK Communications has signed a deal with Cizion to combine the comment systems on on SK’s Cyworld, Nate and C-Log sites with Cizion’s already hugely popular LiveRe (akin to a Korean version of Disqus).  Under the deal, Cyworld’s 25 million Korean users will be able to sign on using their Nate IDs, and simultaneously post comments to Twitter and Facebook, and the Korean social media services me2DAY and Yozm.

LiveRe has proved a big hit on the Korean internet since founding in 2010, and is now used by more then 200 NGOs, media sites and companies, along with countless bloggers. Its growing influence has even played a part in chipping away at Korea’s real-name system, a process this new deal could very well help help push along.

cizion, comments system

Is Naver Fiddling its Search Results?

Despite the influx of foreign upstarts and the fast-changing nature of Korea’s internet landscape, Naver remains the undisputed king of Korea’s portal sites.

As with Google in much of the rest of the world, however, Naver’s market dominance in Korea has sparked occasional fears that it wields too much power. Now,  if gripes from an OhmyNews journalist are to be believed, Naver has been using that power to fiddle with search results — for both political and financial reasons.

naver portal controversy
A Naver search, with the offending ETNews article at the top!

According to a round-up in ETNews, the controversy began on May 25 when OhmyNews reporter Kim In-song accused the portal giant of pushing illegal copies of original news sources to the top of its search results. Hits on such copies, Kim said, would earn Naver income that hits on the original sources wouldn’t.

Naver struck back. On its official blog on May 27, the portal said:

This misunderstanding arose because there’s a difference in how long it takes for the search engine to gather documents and analyse them. The results are not intentionally compiled according to (the journalist’s) misconstrued standard.

Then on June 1, Naver gave a detailed presentation of how its search engine now includes external blogs (Naver previously included only blogs it hosts in its search results), providing a further opportunity to scotch Kim’s accusations.

But Kim wasn’t done yet.

In another OhmyNews piece on June 10, Kim wrote: “We can’t get past the suspicion that search results related to politics are being manipulated.” Citing examples from Naver’s yearly “Trend Book,” Kim said that the incidence of keywords about candlelight vigils and the campaign to impeach President Lee Myung-bak were very low, as were mentions of a specific candidate for the election of Seoul’s superintendent of education.

Poppycock, replied Naver.

The Trend Book is not a collection of statistics. It’s a kind of magazine documenting trends, and doesn’t strictly enumerate the incidence of keywords in Naver search. The trends can show up through a series of keywords or representative keywords, so there can be a difference.

Regarding the absence of the candidate, Naver said:

In order to avoid abuse of the system, our algorithm automatically excludes words  from auto-complete that have been written incorrectly on numerous occasions. We think that’s what may have happened here, so the name of that candidate may not have been automatically included in our “related search” list.

As a quoted expert points out, these cases are probably too isolated to prove anything much. But given how jealously search engines guard their search algorithms, and the Korean public’s often ambivalent attitude to domestic search engines, this story is sure to run and run.

Study: Groupon Korea, Coupang Winning the Hits Race

A new study from nielsen Koreanclick shows that Groupon Korea received the most hits of any Korean social commerce site in May, followed by Coupang, market leader Ticket Monster, and then WeMakePrice.

groupon, ticket monster, wemakeprice, coupang

Since opening in February, Groupon has enjoyed a meteoric rise in unique visits to its site — which has not, as yet, translated into a commanding market position. For its part, Coupang began airing TV ads in April, following which, Bloter says, unique visits to its site jumped by 1 million.

In other, not entirely surprising results from the survey, more than 60 percent of social commerce users were found to be in their 20s and 30s. Groupon enjoyed slightly more traction among younger and older users.

korea, ticket monster, coupang, groupon, wemakeprice

Perhaps even less surprising, an analysis of peak usage times for social commerce sites showed that most Koreans use them between the hours of 8am and 7pm — in other words, when they’re at work.

korea, ticket monster, groupon, wemakeprice, coupang

Looking st sources of inflow, all four of the market leaders get most of their traffic from portal searches, with Ticket Monster and WeMakePrice especially dependent on those sources. Groupon and Coupang derived a relatively high number of hits through email, a result of their running more special promotional events than their two rivals. (On the graph below, the blue sections represent email, red is online communities, green is searches, and purple is direct entry via the front page.)

korea, ticket monster, coupang, groupon, wemakeprice

Finally, in what must be very encouraging news for all social commerce sites, another graph showed that each site’s traffic spiked when it ran a particularly popular offer. While this says nothing about the possibility of repeat visits, a potential Achilles’ heel of social commerce everywhere, it does at least offer compelling evidence that good offers with strong brands will work in the short run.

The graph below shows Coupang spiking on March with a Burger King coupon offer, followed by Ticket Monster in April with offers on plane tickets to Jeju and coupons for bakery chain Tous les Jours. Next up, Groupon surged in May with its “megadeal” on Auction coupons, then Ticket Monster again with coupons for McDonalds’ McCafe, and finally Coupang again with a deal at Home Plus.

korea, groupon, ticket monster, coupang, wemakeprice

Facebook, Twitter Use Booming on Mobile As Users Yearn for ‘Private Space’

New figures from market research firm Matrix confirm that the last 12 months have seen explosive growth in Korea for Twitter and Facebook, especially on mobile devices.

In May of this year, according to the Donga story, Facebook received 18.6 million visits in Korea via the “wired internet” (ie, PCs), compared with 2.64 million in the same month last year. The corresponding figures for Twitter were 13.5 million and 3.94 million. This represented growth of 605 percent and 244 percent, respectively.

On mobile, the growth is even more stratospheric. In May of this year, Facebook and Twitter respectively had 24.57 million and 27 million visits via mobile devices, representing respective growth rates of 1,766 percent and 765 percent.

While strangely omitting to mention the soaring popularity of smartphones in Korea, the Donga piece proffers a couple of explanations for the explosion of social media use on mobile devices:

  1. Smartphones have opened up a whole new raft of uses for social media, including real-time updates  of events such as the earthquake in Japan.
  2. In contrast with how PCs are used, Koreans apparently yearn for the more “closed space” that mobiles can provide when using social media. Says Won Yong-jin, a communications professor at Sogang University:

Even married couples, using smartphones, which they don’t tend to share, can create what they perceive as “my own private network.”Using social media through mobile devices fulfills the wish of modern people to maintain their own personal space.

Indeed, despite the rapid growth of Twitter and Facebook in Korea, the Donga piece (without, sadly, citing any statistics) also said that according to the survey, this yearning for a degree of privacy is  pushing some people away from the more open platforms and into the welcoming arms of Kakao Talk and even Cyworld.

On his decision to close his Twitter account, Wang Tae-yong, a 27-year-old company man, said:

I find it a burden that stuff from Twitter can show up, unfiltered, on portal searches. I post pictures to Cyworld, where they only ever remain visible to my immediate, first tier of friends.

Startup Focus: Lotiple Looks to Shake Up Social Commerce by Wooing Local Vendors

For all the wild success of social commerce in Korea in the past year or so, not everyone is happy with how it’s shaping up.

As Bloter notes, most half-price coupons can’t be used before a specific date. Few or no refunds are available, even before the coupon’s period of validity begins.  Most coupons offer a rigid 50 percent discount, irrespective of the service or location. And, perhaps most inconvenient of all, social commerce companies issue a set number of coupons regardless of the time, meaning ill-equipped outlets can be swamped with customers demanding discounts at the busiest periods.

Which is why a new start-up called Lotiple is generating buzz in Korea’s tech media, despite entering what is already a phenomenally crowded market.

A hybrid of the words Location, Time and People, Lotiple was started by seven friends who all attended Korea’s prestigious KAIST University. For the company’s head, Lee Cham-sol, Lotiple marks the second foray into the world of online startups, following an earlier social shopping venture called “O-Ilsan,” which operated, as the name suggests, from the Ilsan district just outside Seoul.

Though Lee says the company started making money almost straight away, his experience provided him with what would ultimately, he hopes, be a more profitable insight (from Bloter):

We saw that the market would very soon generate conflict, so we could see no future in it. Through talking to vendors and customers, we could see there was a clear conflict of interest.

To illustrate the point, Bloter cites a hypothetical popular restaurant in Gangnam. At lunchtimes, it will be swamped with custom from surrounding offices, whether or not it offers coupon discounts. Yet as soon as lunchtime is over, the restaurant will empty out fast.  In these circumstances, the coupons clearly offer no benefit at all to participating restaurants, serving only to reduce the take from one of their busiest times.

To counter this, Lotiple hit on a neat solution: let vendors prepare and issue their own coupons via the site. Then, after downloading the Lotiple smartphone app, punters can find out what deals are on offer in the vicinity and use them straight away.

Sweetening the pot some more for vendors, Lotiple allows them to set the size of the discount, the number of coupons and the times the promotion will be valid. They even lend participating shops and restaurants an iPad 2 with which to do it.

Though Lotiple has only been open three months, Lee says the response has been positive so far. However, as with any innovations in social commerce, the window of opportunity before the big boys latch on is very small. As mentioned previously, Groupon, for one, will soon be offering real-time discounts on its smartphone app.

For the time being, however, Lotiple appears to have found a real gap in the social commerce market, and shows, yet again, that there’s no shortage of good ideas in Korea’s start-up community.

Pictures and info courtesy of Bloter and Venture Square.

Kakao Talk Coming to BlackBerry by Start of July … Or Is It?

RIM announced on June 5 that its App World is to offer a version of Kakao Talk sometime between the end of June and the beginning of July.

But according to ZDNet, Korea’s still smallish band of BlackBerry users is less than impressed.

Coming soon?

The problem is that this isn’t the first time a release date has been mooted for the hugely popular mobile messenger service. According to ZDNet, Kakao Talk first announced it was developing a BlackBerry version in February. After a lack of further news, the launch was supposed to take place by the beginning of this month, until the following message appeared on BlackBerry Korea’s Facebook page last week:

We are in the process of developing Kakao Talk for BlackBerries, and we’re planning to launch it sometime between the end of June and the beginning of July. We don’t yet have a definite release date, but we are working closely with Kakao Talk to ensure there are no problems.

We’ll keep you posted on any new news here, so be sure to keep visiting.

These delays, says ZDNet, are giving the impression that BlackBerry is neglecting the Korean market and its 100,000 or so BlackBerry users (a little less than 1 percent of the overall smartphone market). RIM flatly denies this, saying that any suggestions that it isn’t cooperating with Kakao Talk are groundless.

ZDNet quotes a representative of RIM as saying:

We’re working closely with Kakao Talk on the development and launch. There are rumours that RIM’s head office isn’t being cooperative, but this official announcement is intended to put an end to them.

These words haven’t been enough to quell the gripes of Korea’s netizens, however, who decry the “inconvenience” and “inadequacy” of the current selection of apps available in Korea. Some even say they’re considering switching brands.

Though alternatives exist (What’sApp being a prime example), their relatively low number of users in Korea makes them a less than ideal substitute. In addition, while My People has also announced plans for a BlackBerry version, an official launch date has yet to be announced.

As a BlackBery user in Korea, it is a bit of a pain that Kakao Talk (along with many other Korean apps) isn’t yet available here — not least because the What’sApp interface, IMHO, is strikingly dull. Here’s hoping the Facebook announcement is the real deal this time.

Kakao Talk, My People Lead the Charge of the Mobile Freebies

Korean smartphone users are increasingly taking mobile messenger and m-VoIP services – such as Kakao Talk and My People – for granted, and are using their allotted calls and text messages far less as a result.

In a survey of 1,000 smartphone users conducted by research company Trend Monitor, 77 percent of respondents said such services should always be free of charge. In addition, 74.7 and 61.6 percent of users respectively said that mobile messenger and m-VoIP services already bring savings in their phone bills.

In more figures likely to make phone carriers wince, some 87.9 percent of respondents said they already use mobile messenger services on their phones, while 47 percent ‘fessed up to using m-VoIP.

Asked why they used mobile messenger, 69.7 percent said because it’s free, while 51.1 percent said it’s because many people around them use such services a lot (45.7 percent cited convenience).

For m-VoIP apps, the majority (74 percent) cited their being free of charge, and 57.4 percent said the apps helped save them money on their phone bills. The obvious conclusion, then, is that m-VoIP users are even more enticed by the possible savings and free use than are fans of mobile messenger services.

trend monitor

Of the respondents using mobile messenger services, 92 percent said they use Kakao Talk, 43.6 percent said NateOn UC, and 23.8 percent said My People. With m-VoIP apps, the majority went for My People (48.5 percent) followed by Skype (44.5 percent).

In addition, 65.6 percent of respondents said that mobile messenger services displayed virtually no difference in quality with their phones’ native SMS services, and 68.3 percent said they regarded mobile messengers as “must have” apps. However, in a sign that the technology still has a ways to go, the corresponding figures for m-VoIP were just 23.7 percent and 45.6 percent.

However, though the likes of Kakao and My People are now eating into carriers’ profits, such has been the growth of these freebies that many smartphone users are no longer even using up their monthly allowance of SMS and calls.

Just 36.6 percent of users are now using their full allowance of SMS, with 34.2 percent using less than half, and 14.9 percent using almost none at all. For calls, 47.3 percent are using up their data plans, with 13.9 percent using less than half and 3.6 percent using practically none.

Even for overall data use, only 40.3 percent are using up their monthly allowance, with 22.4 percent using less than half and 7.8 consuming almost none.

As ZDNet points out, with smartphone users expected to top 20 million by the end of this year, the only way for these trends to go is up. The big question is, just how will Korea’s once all-powerful carriers respond?

UPDATE: Over on Seoul Space, Erik Cornelius has a post about carriers raising prices for their data plans. But if these figures above are correct, you have to wonder how much of a difference it will make.

UPDATE 2: In my indecent haste to put this post up, I made the mistake of equating the increased use of Kakao Talk and My People with drops in use of data plans. This, of course, is incorrect. While the greater adoption of the likes of Kakao Talk and My People will affect the use of SMS and call allowances, it should also  increase smartphone users’ overall consumption of data.

Thanks to @donburi for pointing out the error, and thank goodness for the edit button!

Money Today Lists Top 3 Korean Apps for May

In a game-heavy month, Money Today has listed the following as its top three Korean apps for May:

Name: Pala Dog

OS: iOS

Developer: FazeCat


 

 

 

 

 

On a planet where animals live like humans, the dominance of the pure, kind-hearted animals is leading to the disappearance of their co-habitants — the evil-spirited demons. But now, the devils have declared war on the animals, opening a conflict that the peaceful animals are ill-equipped to fight. Into this abyss steps a saviour, a champion called “Pala Dog.”

Though Pala Dog is a fairly standard defence game, it has a number of original features that are helping make it a hit among Korean gamers. The “enchant system,” for instance, lets players upgrade the items they own, a function reminiscent of role playing games that, Money Today says, makes Pala Dog truly addictive.

The game progresses in stages, with a “special mode” occurring on every third stage. In the “carriage convoy stage,” for instance,  you have to guide the carriage convoy to its destination. While in the “battlefield mode” you have to engage in battle not unlike that in the popular Plants vs Zombies game.

In addition, the “O-ora” bonuses contain power-ups such as friendly forces that can also be upgraded as Pala Dog progresses through the stages.

Most recently, a paid version (US$1.99) of the game offers a new survival stage, which offers tougher challenges for anyone who’s worked their way through the initial three stages.

Name: Birzzle

OS: iOS

Developer: Nfill

A hybrid of the words “bird” and “puzzle,” Birzzle is  gnawingly addictive puzzle game that plays like a touchscreen version of the native iPhone game Bejeweled.

The game consists of two modes. Players begin on the “Classic” mode, and when they’ve passed level 20 of that, they graduate to “Ice Breaker.”

In the game, players drag birds around the screen as they aim to assemble birds of the same colour in rows. If they gather three in a row, the birds vanish; if they gather four, they can either destroy all the birds in the vicinity or on the entire screen.

Though level one is easy enough for anyone to play, the difficulty increases quickly as you work your way up through the stages. The gap between levels is also extremely short, meaning you have to stay on your toes at all times. The Ice Breaker mode mixes things up a bit: as you erase the birds, nearby blocks of ice break up to reveal eggs that you have to try and save.

Birzzle doesn’t have a full online version, but – by logging in with Birzzle’s game centre – you can check and compare your high score with other players. It comes in a basic free version or a more advanced format for US$0.99.

Name: qbro

OS: Android, iOS

Developer: JellyBus

While there’s no end of phone apps that let you brush up pictures and share them on social media sites, qbro has been making a bit of a name for itself. Key among the reasons for this are a series of convenient features and a clean interface.

The film effect feature lets users add a range of finishes that can make a single photo look completely different. Though the menu for this feature looks a bit intimidating, it is apparently rendered quite easy to use thanks to a series of simple explanations that appear every time you scroll it up and down.

Using qbro, you can call up any pictures you’ve taken and access the edit function by pressing the Edit Studio button at the bottom. You can get a good look at your edited handiwork with the preview function, and save it by clicking on the diskette icon on the upper end of the page. Pressing the arrow icon next to the diskette lets you share your pics on any social media sites. Qbro costs US$0.99.