New LBS App Lets Users Dig Up Details on Potential New Friends

Local company 4:33 Creative Lab has introduced yet another entrant into Korea’s booming location-based service sector. Called Secret Box, the app has users unearth imaginary boxes buried around the city, open up the pictures and messages (left by fellow members) lying within, and then submit replies or start chatting straight away.

Secret Box’s unique selling point is that users can start up new friendships or groups with people who are visiting, or have visited, the place where the user now is. This could lead to casual chats, new friendships or even, the Prime Kyongje article says, romance.

4:33 Creative Lab developed this app as part of the “Open API Cooperation Project” at SK Telecom’s Sangsaeng Innovation Centre. The app makes use of SK’s T-map function, and is now available for free from SK’s T-Store.

Users of Secret Box are supposed to leave a message and picture of themselves in locations they go to frequently, such as workplaces or apartment complexes. Then, fellow members can check out, via the app, what’s in the “boxes” when they pass through the area. To check out what’s on offer in the vicinity, users can conduct an “area exploration,” which even goes to the trouble of showing the quickest route to a secret box that takes their fancy.

In addition, by collecting “뿅” (bbyong, roughly translatable as “surprise!”), you can increase your ranking among the co-inhabitants of areas where you have secret boxes. One bbyong is awarded daily to the secret box inhabitant of each area who receives the most “likes” from people who check out their message and photo. Rankings are listed in the app.

Until the 5th of September, Secret Box is looking to drum up business with its “find the Secret Box, receive a giveaway” promotion.  In keeping with the secret shtick, the exact nature of the prizes won’t be disclosed. Instead, hints for that day’s prize will be revealed via the app. However,  4:33 Creative Lab says the prizes will include luxury handbags and tablet PCs.

So, what do we make of this one? Novel and innovative attempt to tap into the social networking and dating businesses? Or a tad icky?

Problems Pile Up for Gaming Shutdown Law

It’s now less than two months until Korea begins to enforce the highly contentious “shutdown law” (also known as the “Cinderella law”), which will bar kids aged 16 and under from playing online games between the hours of midnight and 6am.  But now, adding to doubts about whether it will actually achieve anything, the law is facing another thorny question: given Nate/Cyworld’s recent security breach, is it right to compel youngsters to register their personal information with gaming companies?

On the 16th of this month, at a forum titled “Information Rights Through Revisions to the Game Law,” Jang Yeo-gyeong of the Progressive Network Centre said, “If the shutdown law is enforced, we’ll have the real-name system being applied to games too, so once again, criticism will arise about the gathering of personal data.”

ZDNet says that concerns such as this are becoming ever more pronounced as the campaign to repeal the real-name system heats up. Games companies themselves are expressing concern that with the shutdown law depending on registering real names online, there’s a real possibility that leaks of personal information could occur again. Making things more complicated still, the original bill was amended in June to include a “selective shutdown clause,” which extends the ban to those aged 19 and under if the person’s legal guardian gives consent.

The rarefied surrounds of a PC bang (room).

Jang said:

The stated goal of this legislation is preventing young people from getting too immersed in games. Even if you accept that we need to verify their identities by insisting on checking their real names, at the very least it’s a violation of their rights. The shutdown law may not insist that people actually use their real names when playing games or chatting, but it does push gaming companies to retain information with which the companies can track down users’ real names.

Jang also rejected the possible alternative of using an i-PIN, or Internet Personal Identification Number, saying:

If you look at the process of issuing i-PINs, personal verification information including social security numbers is delivered to five private credit agencies, so there’s a high risk that these companies could be targeted for theft. Also, in carrying out the public task of gathering personal data to help prevent identity theft, these companies are actually using this private information to turn a profit.

The shutdown law, which always smacked of political populism rather than informed policy, seems to be facing increasingly steep hurdles as its implementation date draws closer. Besides swimming against the trickle of greater liberalisation of Korea’s internet, the law is facing challenges on human rights grounds, and has major practical issues, too. For one thing, many PC bangs already bar minors from entering after 10pm; for another, determined (and devious) gamers will apparently be able to circumvent the law by using an adult’s ID.

With all this grief, lawmakers (or at least law enforcers) must be wondering whether it’s worth all the bother.

Thanks again to @sunlars for her help in untangling some of the knottier parts of this story.

Korean Drama Checks In With Location-Based Service

The Kyunghyang Shinmun reports that following forays into other types of social media marketing, the Korean entertainment business has now launched a successful hook-up with a domestic location-based service (LBS).

Following the generally successful recruitment of entertainers to NHN’s Twitter clone me2DAY and a joint promotion between I’m In and Korean TV series Dream High, the latest social media tie-in sees local LBS SeeOn promoting hit comedy-thriller Myung Wol the Spy.

SeeOn offers fairly standard LBS-type services, including location check-ins, info about nearby places and special offers, and chatting with other users. However, since launching the tie-in with Myung Wol the Spy, and plastering the faces of Mun Jung-hyuk (of Shinhwa fame) and Han Ye-seul on its homepage, SeeOn downloads have supposedly surged by 650,000.

Thanks to the joint promotion, drama fans can follow the cast’s movements around the city and go to sites where the key scenes for different characters were shot.

In a priceless bit of product placement, the show that ran on the 9th of this month had a plot point revolving around the main characters’ use of SeeOn. Also, as another carrot for drama fans, people who log-on to the SeeOn page for Mun Jung-hyuk’s character while the show is airing can enter a draw for prizes including an iPad 2.

UPDATE: Oops! It seems I’ll have to pay closer attention to my Korean dramas before posting about them. As this story explains, Myung Wol the Spy has been anything but a hit, with Han Ye-seul even threatening to walk away completely. (She has since backed down, apparently. Few things focus the mind like the threat of litigation.)

Money Today Lists Top 3 Korean Apps for July

It’s that time of the month again when Money Today puts down its smartphone, has a ponder and comes up with its three top apps for the month of July.

Name: Tap Sonic

 

OS: Android, iOS

 

Developer: Neowiz Internet

 

Tap Sonic is one of those massively popular rhythm games you may have seen in Korean arcades, but for your fingers rather than your feet. Simply, as the game emits notes, you have to tap along with them in time to the beat.

Unlike in most rhythm games, the notes in Tap Sonic — which include Korean characters such as ㄱ and ㄹ  — don’t just fall vertically or move horizontally. To win in this game, players can’t just touch the right notes — they actually have to touch them and drag them around the screen in the shape of the corresponding Korean character.

When playing the game, players can choose either single mode, which runs for one song, or “non-stop,” which involves three. The game has a big selection of songs to choose from, but only some are available at the outset — the others have to be bought using accumulated “music points” (presumably gained through playing the game). On the song selection screen, you can also change the speed at which the notes appear or the game’s appearance, greatly extending the app’s gameplay even with the same songs.

As with all such games, scores depend on timing, with most points being awarded if you hit the note dead in time with the beat.

Tap Sonic is free.

Name: Photo Shake

 

OS: Android, iOS

 

Developer: MotionOne

 

Photo Shake is one of a growing number of apps that let users edit their pics on their phone, rather than having to flick them over to a PC and photoshop them there. This twist here, though, is that users just give their phones a shake, and the app applies whatever random bit of editing it feels like.

The process starts with the user choosing from one of six categories — solo pics, on the spot pics, wide pics, and so on — for the kind of look they want to achieve. Next, they need to pull up a photo, which they can do either by taking a new one, drawing on pics stored in the phone, or uploading one from the likes of Picasa or Flickr.

With that done, the next step is to give the phone a little shake, and the app automatically formats the picture in some way — adding a speech bubble, say, or a sticker effect. If you don’t like it, another short shake will bring up another format.

With the editing done, Photo Shake makes it easy to share the finished article by email or any of the usual SNS suspects.

Photo Shake costs $1.99 from the Apple App Store and Android App Market.

Name: Mega Punch 3D

 

OS: Android

 

Developer: 아몬드게임즈

 

Megapunch, says Money Today, has been the perfect hit for summer, offering a way to de-stress by punching the bejesus out of opponents using nothing more dangerous than the touchscreen on your smartphone.

By touching or dragging, players can administer jabs, hooks and uppercuts. Uppercutting leaves you with your guard down, however,  so when lining up one of those screamers, players have to use the dodge button at the foot of the screen to avoid getting pummeled.

Whether on “immediate start” or “champion” mode, players begin with a fairly easy scrap, meeting tougher opponents the more fights they win. Players can face-off against opponents online, or just do a bit of practice against an automated adversary in “coach” mode.

As players pile up the victories, they gain access to a growing range of accessories that they can use to dandy-up or strengthen their character. A highly effective way of doing this is to enter one of Megapunch’s online leagues, which awards untold riches of virtual gold to the winner.

Megapunch is available from T-Store and is free in its basic version. A more advanced version retails for 3,900 won.

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.

Naver Still No. 1 in Mobile Search, But Google Reaping Benefits of Simplicity

A newish study shows that Google search has the highest rates of satisfaction among smartphone users in Korea, but Naver is still tops for market share with 54.8 percent.

In its “Mobile Internet Index” for the second half of 2011, market research company Metrix found that compared with January of this year, satisfaction with Google’s mobile search had risen 0.4 points to 70.5. This nudged it ahead of former leader Naver, which fell to second with 67.1, followed by Daum on 66.7 and Nate on 65.9

google, naver, daum, nate

Overall satisfaction with mobile search fell over the last six months, from 69.9 points to 67.4. This change was attributed to a growing dissatisfaction with actually accessing the search engines on mobile devices. Compared with January, the study noted, respondents said they had found it harder to access all three of the Korean portals. Google was the sole exception.

The reason for this apparent drop in quality, the Korean Communications Commission said, was that the number of smartphone users had more than doubled, while wireless speeds on 3G networks had fallen. Crucially, however, the size of opening pages on Korean portals had also sprawled, while Google’s had remained steady.

Bloter quoted Metrix as saying:

In Naver’s case, their opening page ran to about twice the screen size six months ago. Today, it’s increased to around three times the size. On July 26th, Google’s homepage used about 4.34KB of data, whereas Naver’s used 51.33KB, Daum’s used 30.2KB, and Nate’s used 41.22KB.

Given Korean’s well-known fondness for ornate opening pages, it would be ironic indeed if local portals’ attempts to cater to this demand ended up pushing mobile netizens into Google’s arms. The fact that Korea is supposedly the only country in the world* where Google felt compelled to doll up its famously simple homepage to boost market share, only adds to the weirdness!

(* According to a recent podcast I heard of a talk from “Google employee No. 58” Douglas Edwards.)

For all that, when it comes to actual mobile market share, Naver remains firmly in first place with 54.8 percent, followed by Daum on 18.5 percent, Google on 14.7 percent and Nate on 8.4.

google, daum, nate, naver

A possible takeaway from this is that despite Naver’s much-touted problems, and the supposed inexorable rise of foreign upstarts such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, local social networking sites and portals remain very deeply entrenched in Korea, and will probably be so for some time yet.

Nate, Cyworld Security Breach Puts Private Info of 35 Million at Risk

The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) announced today that hackers had broken into Nate and Cyworld, potentially exposing the personal details of some 35 million members of the two sites.

Bloter reports that using an IP in China, hackers illegally accessed the names, IDs, emails, phone numbers, social security numbers and passwords of some 35 million accounts held on the Nate portal and Cyworld social network site. SK Communications, the parent company of the two sites, confirmed the breach with the KCC today and said they had also reported it to the police. In order to prevent further attacks, the company said it was also strengthening its system monitoring and pushing people to change their passwords.

In order to minimise the risk to the huge numbers of Koreans who have Nate and/or Cyworld accounts, the KCC is trying to spread news of the breach as quickly as possible, and has added a pop-up window on Nate and Cyworld that lets users check whether their information is safe.

To head off further problems, the KCC is also urging internet users to change their passwords not just on the affected sites, but in any other online accounts, too. They are also warning Koreans to be especially vigilant against phone “phishing” scams in the weeks ahead.

To try and find out exactly what happened, Bloter says the KCC has set up a research group, and will also be carrying out a thorough investigation to see if SK Comms was negligent or did anything illegal.

The ramifications of such a massive breach are likely to play out for quite some time — but a short-term issue is renewed anger at the Real Name system, which requires Koreans to submit their  real names and social security numbers when leaving comments on any sites that attract more than 100,000 people per day. The law means that besides getting just user names and passwords, the hackers were potentially able to access users social security numbers as well.

More on this story here.

Survey Reveals Changing Patterns of Smartphone Use in Korea

The Korea Communication Commission (KCC) has released one of its periodical insights into the habits of Korea’s smartphone users, and Bloter is all over it. Among its findings: females now outnumber males among new smartphone users, more than three quarters of users have taken advantage of instant messenger services, and almost 80 percent of users have downloaded an app in the past month.

The survey took place between May 29 and June 7 of this year, and covered 4,000 smartphone users aged between 12 and 59. Dealing with four areas — smartphone use, use of apps, payment deals and use of instant messenger services — the survey was the third in a series beginning in July last year, allowing researchers to track how smartphone trends have been changing over the last 12 months. The second survey took place in January of this year.

 

 

This first graph shows that 47.4 percent of current smartphone users bought their handset in the last six months. Just 8.7 percent said they’d owned one for a year or more.

 

 

 

These three charts show the changing male to female ratios for new owners of smartphones, defined as people who’d bought their handset in the last six months. Clearly, women are becoming an ever-more important demographic in the smartphone market.

 

When asked what the most important factor was when deciding which smartphone to buy, 60.7 percent of the respondents said “design and size,” 50.9 percent said “screen size and picture quality,” 45.1 percent replied “service system,” and 43.8 percent said “price of the handset.”

Regarding what drove them to buy a smartphone in the first place, 64.3 percent said, “Because I want to install and use different types of software,” 52.1 percent said,” Because I want to use the internet at any time,” and 45.6 percent cited curiosity about using new services or technology. At 29.5 percent was, “Because people around me are using one,” whereas just 15.2 percent cited academic study or work as their main reason for buying a smartphone.

Asked what they use their smartphone for most, the highest number, 88 percent, said it was to use the search function or just regular web surfing. In the previous survey, Bloter says, the most common response was “managing my calendar and itinerary,” showing that smartphones have become a pivotal platform for random looks around the internet.

Some 91.2 percent of respondents said they use the internet on their smartphones, of whom 87.3 percent said they access it more than once a day. This marks a rise of around 16 percent over the first two surveys, with the average amount of time spent online on smartphones — at 75.7 minutes —  also representing an increase of around 18 minutes over the survey carried out in January of this year.

As for other key uses of their smartphones, respondents said for the alarm and clock (80.5 percent), for chatting and messenger (79.6 percent), managing calendar and itinerary (78.2 percent), games (70.4 percent) and maps (70.4 percent).

As the above graphic shows, app downloads have also risen sharply among smartphone users. Over the last 12 months, the proportion of smartphone users who downloaded an app in the last month has risen from 66 percent to 76.6 percent. In addition, some 38 percent of those spent an average of 5,000 won per month on apps.

Unsurprisingly (unless it seems on the low side), 76.9 percent of respondents said they had used a mobile instant messenger service. Of those, 41 percent said they had sent fewer text messages as a result. In addition, seven in 10 smartphone owners said they had used a VoiP service, of whom 13.9 percent said it had led to them making fewer calls.

Some 87.1 percent of respondents said they has used social networking sites on their smarpthones, with the average rate of daily use running to an impressive 1.9 hours. Of the social media fans, most (72.7 percent) said they used “communities” (couldn’t quite work out what this means — cafes and/or Facebook, perhaps?), 66.4 percent used microblogs (Twitter et al), and 59.4 percent said they used “mini hompis” on the still hugely popular Cyworld service.

Regarding payment plans, 93.3 percent said they were on a flat-rate, limited data plan, up 18 percent from May 2010. Also, whereas the most common (40.4 percent) payment plan cost 35,000 won in the first survey and 45,000 in the second survey (34.4 percent), the majority of respondents this time (44.4 percent) said they were forking out 55,000 won for their payment plans.

UPDATE: A very informative comment from Simon Kim over on Google+, who says this about the “communities” Koreans are using on their smartphones:

It means like ‘Cafe’ in Naver or Daum, ‘Club’ in Nate. (Not Facebook, honestly) – I guess ‘Communities’ means like something based on ‘membership’ system. (Join-or-Quit) … Korean’s online community culture is very unique than any other nations. I’ve never seen like cafe or club on websites based on US or Europe. Before smartphones came up in public, online shopping and these kinds of ‘online group network’ have much developed (from housewives to mountain climbing club). I’m pretty sure this patterns were smoothly injected Korean’s smartphone using patterns as well. Facebook is definitely ascending also. (Even though typical platforms like Cyworld is pretty much overwhelming in this section.)

I knew that online “cafes” were still very popular in Korea, but I hadn’t realised they are the dominant form of social networking on smartphones, according to Simon. Worth a post of its own, if someone fancies doing the research :)

Korea Takes Aim at IE6 — Portals to End Support by January?

Ice the champagne, break out the party poppers, unwrap the hors d’oeuvres because — yes! — Korea is declaring war on Internet Explorer 6.

From July 14 until the end of the month, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is working with Naver, Daum, Microsoft, the Korea Internet Security Agency and others on the snappily named “Old Browser (Internet Explorer 6) Upgrade and Multi-Browser Use” campaign. As the name suggests, the campaign will be focused on getting Korean individuals and businesses to abandon the now 10-year-old browser in favour of a newer version of Explorer, or even — woah! — a different browser altogether.

The ultimate aim of the campaign is to have Korea’s biggest portals discontinue support for IE6 by January of next year.

As of this June, according to figures from Statcounter.com, 18 percent of Korean netizens are still using IE6, compared with a global rate of just 4 percent. In addition, some 93 percent of Korea’s internet population uses some form of Internet Explorer, compared with 44 percent globally.

As ZDNet points out, there are numerous problems with this aged, creaking browser, which have already led global behemoths such as Google and YouTube to stop supporting it. Besides not offering newer fonts, IE6 doesn’t automatically update security patches, leaving computers highly vulnerable to viruses and use as “zombies” in denial-of-service attacks. In addition, most web developers no longer use IE6, making it difficult, expensive and time-consuming to maintain services and sites optimised for use on the browser.

To encourage Koreans to abandon IE6 in favour of the likes of  IE9, Chrome or Firefox, the KCC has put together a special page on the KISA website explaining how to switch to a new browser and the benefits of doing so. Korea’s main portals are helping with the effort, with pages of their own explaining the changes.

With many businesses in Korea still stuck in IE6 purgatory, the KCC is busy promoting the benefits of switching browser to them as well. The Commission expects that by reducing IE6 use to 10 percent nationwide, businesses could save up to 30 percent in development costs, and a further 15-20 percent in development costs of user interfaces.

Keeping up the astoundingly good news, the KCC said it also plans to continue its push to support replacement technologies for the widely loathed Active X, and educate the public in the benefits of alternatives.

While this is all great to hear, longtime internet users here might believe all this when they see it, not least when beauties like this are still on offer at the biggest supermarkets in the land (HT to @holterbarbour).

UPDATE: Evan Ramstad takes up this story over on his WSJ blog. One enlightening comment reads:

ActiveX is not a technique for encryption. It is actually an outdated framework for running plugins/applications in Internet Explorer, highly vulnerable to all kinds of security attacks. To the best of my knowledge, Korea’s domestic encryption technology, called SEED, was implemented by means of ActiveX, making most other Korean Web applications also dependent on Microsoft’s ActiveX technology, and hence on Internet Explorer.