Zum Brings DIY Ethic to Korean Portals

Korean has had no shortage of¬†internet and portal controversies recently, and local portals aren’t exactly renowned for their openness. But local company ESTSoft¬†(producer of the AlZip tools) thinks it may have an answer.

korea portal

Released in beta form last week, Zum is a new portal that, its founders say, places central emphasis on openness, convenience and keeping its own input to a minimum. In practice, this means no native email service or online “communities,” minimal content generated by Zum itself, and membership sign-ups kept as simple as possible. Intriguingly, Zum doesn’t even have its own search function, instead letting users scroll through a list of the five most popular engines in Korea to choose the one they want to use.

Unusually for Korean sites, Zum allows users to log-in using only an email address, provided they don’t want to leave comments on any sites. If they do want to comment, they need to sign up for a “regular membership,” which means submitting their real name and social security number (presumably to conform with Korea’s real-name requirements). However, Zum says that as soon as it has verified the user’s identity, it will discard his or her information. Following on the heels of Nate and Cyworld’s massive security breach recently, this is surely an idea Koreans could like very much.

As well as offering a choice of search engines, Zum has a highly customisable homepage comprising a series of “widgets” that users can download and arrange as they wish. At present, those widgets, or “Zum Apps,” include links to Naver, Daum and Facebook, along with direct links to whatever email service the user wants to use. In future, though, ESTSoft hopes to entice developers to create a series of new apps that will be available from a Zum App Store.

Another key feature on the site is “News Zum,” for which, similarly to Daum News, ESTSoft will handle the ranking and selection of news items directly. (On Naver, the news outlets dictate news rankings and headlines themselves.) Zum also plans to launch a Yahoo! Answers-type service called “Aha Zum” later in the year.

Interesting as some of the ideas in Zum undoubtedly are, they do prompt some big questions over its feasibility. Not least, what, if any, disadvantages will arise from not having a native email service? (After all, plenty of people still use Hotmail but browse via Google.) And how can a portal that directs people toward other search engines hope to compete for advertising revenue? Still, in the long, arduous stumble toward greater openness in Korea’s internet, Zum is surely a step in the right direction.

As usual, much of the information here comes courtesy of Bloter.

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