Blogger Blasts Naver, Urges Koreans to Go Google

A new post from a vigilant Korean blogger has once again focused attention on alleged sharp practices by Naver, and other Korean portals, regarding their search results. Worse for domestic portals, the post has started a Twitter firestorm, with a growing number of Korean netizens urging their countryfolk to abandon Naver in favour of Google.

As the Newsface piece points out, a major recent example concerned Shin Jeong-ah, the shamed former Dongguk University art professor who was found to have lied about her academic credentials. In her autobiography, Shin claimed that “C”, a former journalist at the Chosun Ilbo and later a member of the National Assembly, had sexually harassed her in a taxi.

Articles about the incident surged up search rankings until said assemblyman, claiming that the story was defamatory, demanded that Naver remove the results. However, Daum, Naver’s biggest domestic rival, left its results as they were. In addition, results relating to former prime minister Chung Un-chan, who Shin accused in her book of “untoward” behaviour, likewise remained untouched. This, the article says, demonstrated to netizens that Naver was indeed suppressing certain results, but not necessarily in a fair or even-handed manner.

For his part, Kim In-seong, the blogger behind the post, detailed a long and detailed charge sheet against Naver.

First, in accusations also made elsewhere, he says that in order to drive up profit through greater traffic to its own sites, Naver gives preference in searches to illegal reproductions of posts and articles on Naver-affiliated sites, rather than directing users to their original source. Also, he claims…

Domestic portals only care about profit, so they concentrate solely on real-time results of what people are looking at now. This means there is no great diversity in the results, and the overall quality of the search gradually declines. Of course, you have to be able to manipulate real-time search results in order to delete sexual words or other illegal terms, but Naver is choosing to remove certain political terms or search terms that are unfavourable to people in power.

A picture alleging to show manipulation of search results during the protests against US beef in 2008. On the left, the list is topped by "Impeachment," "Lee Myung-bak" and "Lee Myung-bak's Cyworld Page." On the right, hey presto, all references to President Lee have gone, to be replaced at No. 1 by the Beastie Boys.

Kim goes on to claim that Naver also manipulates its auto-complete function. To illustrate his point, Kim brings up the case of Han Myeong-sook, the left-wing former prime minister, during recent regional elections.

The screenshot above shows what Kim claims are the results of an auto search before and after the election. At top, entering the first several characters of Han’s name in Korean (“한ㅁ,” the rough equivalent of entering “Han M”) yields not a single reference to Han in the top 13 results. By contrast, the auto-search at the bottom, done immediately after the election, shows up Han Myeong-sook as No. 1, followed by her kids and husband at numbers 4 and 5. In addition, prior to the election, typing as far as “한명ㅅ” (equivalent to “Han Myeong-s”) does produce a Han Myeong-sook, but not, apparently, the Han Myeong-sook, who is nowhere to be seen on the list.

Kim opines that the manipulation of search results by domestic portals “distorts the will of the people,” slants the internet in favour of the powerful and violates the freedom of the press. Continuing, he says:

Foreign [internet] services observing international norms have been unable to enter Korea because of domestic regulations. Throughout that time, portals have been siding with the powerful and manipulating mainstream opinion in return for protection of the market. In order to make Korean sites trusted around the world … users have to start looking for and using sites that play by the rules, even if that means using foreign services.

Kim bemoans the fact that while foreign search engines and services often support multiple languages, Naver often can’t even find text from famous foreign tech sites written in English. He also says that while Korean portals would like to see their search engines installed as the default search on Android phones, this would be “the worst decision” for Korea’s internet environment and even the future of the portals themselves.

Unsurprisingly, Kim’s post has spread like wildfire over Twitter, with many netizens voicing support for his plea for Koreans to switch to other search engines.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/chaeyoon_H/status/90976832870035456″]

I approve of the opinion that we should start using Google search as a form of protest against Naver, which looks out for the powerful. People will say, “This will just fill the bellies of foreign companies,” or, “They’re all just businesses,” but we can always exercise checks and balances through our strategic choices. Between us the important thing is not “patriotic justice,” it’s “humane righteousness.”

According to the Newsface piece, another Tweet read (though I can’t find the link, unfortunately):

After reading what this guy wrote, I too started using Google. After using it for a while, I really got the feeling that Naver’s search is stuck in a quagmire. If you’re a Korean who’s been trapped in Explorer and Naver, you should really read what he wrote.

After this most thorough of fiskings, I should add that I and many people I know use Naver all the time, because it appears to offer the best results for Korea-related information, news, films, restaurants and so on (bowing to competition, it even started including non-Naver-hosted blogs in its search results). In addition, as I noted in a previous post, Naver rebutted claims about its auto-search by saying that it automatically excludes terms that have been entered incorrectly numerous times — although this wouldn’t explain why the term suddenly works again after regional elections are completed.

This article, fascinating as it was, didn’t offer much by way of balance. So, if anyone wants to defend Naver or challenge what Kim wrote, I’d be delighted to hear about it in the comments.

UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know, on one post that may actually get a few responses, the comments are down! If you feel sufficiently moved to reply, however, you can do so on the Footman’s Frothings Facebook page (please “like” the page while you’re at it, too!). Working again, but please feel free to “like” the Facebook page anyway, Presents Social Media for your Pooch

Having perhaps tired of the cutthroat competition for human users, one new Korean social media site is going for a largely untapped demographic — household pets.

Launching in Beta at the end of last month, replaces human profiles with those of dogs and cats (and, presumably, any other type of pet). Though the service doesn’t, sadly, allow the beasts to use the service themselves, owners can create a profile for their pet — including breed, age and sex — and then communicate on its behalf in the comments thread below. If visitors approve, they can click on the Yeppeoyo! (“It’s pretty!”) button and leave a message.

pet loves me, animals, social media, korea

Kim Tae-yeon, the boss of creator User Story Lab, said:

After analysing Tweets on Tweetmix, we discovered that there was an awful lot of chatter about dogs. People were producing a lot of information about their pet dogs, so we thought there would be a lot of demand for a fun social media service where people [with similar interests] could gather.

The site is very social-media friendly, allowing users to regale their followers on Facebook, Twitter and me2DAY with constant status updates for their pets. Though the service currently only lets user post simple profiles of their pets, from the 25th of this month, they will also, apparently, be able to have full, real-time homepages and feeds a la Facebook and Twitter.

Even more impressively, will soon have its very own location-based service, which —  instead of “checking in” — will allow the pets to “mark their territory” every time they visit somewhere. When they do this, the app will inform users who else is walking their pet nearby and how many people in the vicinity have a beast of the same breed. Users will be able to swap pet talk via the LBS, with a list of places the pet has visited  also added to its profile.

In case you’re wondering, this is certainly not the first attempt at social networking for pets. A host of comedy Twitter accounts for animals has drawn in hundreds of thousands of followers (in some cases, more than news networks), and as far back as 2009, some bright spark in the US started a social network for pets called Cute as Hell (since renamed

From what I can gather, failed to really catch on in the States. But with its mix of tech, cutesy and social networking, might the trick find a readier audience over here?

UPDATE: I might have known that my animal-worshipping homeland would be a world leader in pet social media. According to this Telegraph story, one in 10 UK pets has its own Facebook page.

And while we’re on the topic of new media moggies, here’s YouTube superstar Maru:

UPDATE 2: Footman’s Frothings gets some love from the pet lovers…

Thanks, Morning and Night (?) !

Blaming Batteries, BlackBerry Delays Kakao Talk Release AGAIN

The ongoing saga of the BlackBerry version of Kakao Talk took yet another twist late last week, as BlackBerry announced it was postponing the roll-out of its test version, originally scheduled to run for 10 days from June 27th.

A BlackBerry battery recovers from a run-in with Kakao Talk

The reason for the delay this time, BlackBerry said, was that when the company’s staff ran the app internally, it resulted in an abnormally high drag on the batteries.

Though the company has yet to say how the latest hold-up will affect plans for the official release of the app, it seems certain that it too will be delayed. Had the dummy run been successful, the Kakao Talk app was slated for release on BlackBerries at the beginning of this month.

A company spokesperson said:

Although keeping promises to our customers is paramount, we think that if there’s a chance of causing inconvenience to users, the right thing to do is apologise and ask for their understanding. We don’t yet have a confirmed schedule for the test version, but we are well aware that our customers have been waiting a long time for this, so we will get it going as soon as we possibly can.

According to ZDNet, the response from BlackBerry users in Korea has been mixed, with some gnashing their teeth in dismay, but others apparently reassured that a complete, glitch-free version of Kakao Talk should soon be available.

Ticket Monster Denies Living Social Takeover Rumours … But Doubts Remain

Korea’s internet rumour mill has been working overtime in the past day or so, as reports surfaced that Living Social, the world’s second-biggest social commerce site, was lining up a takeover bid for Ticket Monster (T-Mon), the market leader in Korea.

According to reports from E-Today, news that Barclay’s Bank was facilitating a takeover of T-Mon led one stock trading firm to value the company at 300 billion won, or around US$280 million. This would make the 50 percent holding of Daniel Shin, the company’s CEO and biggest shareholder, worth around US$140 million.

Ticket Monster has admitted to contacting both Living Social and Groupon, but says it was only doing so to try and attract investment. Rumours of a takeover, the company added, are “groundless.”

E-Today says that while the vehemence of T-Mon’s denials mean this story may have been no more than misguided speculation, the fact it arose at all (and for the market leader) indicates deeper problems at the heart of social commerce in Korea. Many local social commerce companies, the story says, are motivated by little more than a desire to get bought up by bigger competitors, and overspend wildly on marketing and quick expansion to achieve this.

In addition, the story says, a business model that relies solely on taking 20-30 percent commissions is always going to be vulnerable.

With social commerce companies requiring just a homepage and a few staff to set up, the entry barriers in Korea are very low. This, E-Today says, has led to an explosion of small- and mid-sized social commerce companies, along with “cannibalisation” among the top four, who compete ferociously over the same vendors to offer their daily deals.

Said one “insider”:

The fact this rumour arose at all is a reflection of how tough things are for social commerce companies. There’s an acute need for a satisfactory long-term business model that can remedy the problems of the the ‘commission profit’ sales structure.

UPDATE: For anyone who cares, I corrected some translation errors I made on the first draft, which were pointed out to me by the unfailingly helpful @sunlars

Money Today Lists Top 4 Korean Apps for June

Such, presumably, was the competition in June that Money Today has listed four rather than its usual three top Korean apps for the month of June. In no particular order, they are:

Name: Booooly!


Developer: Next Apps

Koreans’ love affair with computer games has found a fertile new ground with smartphones, and some of the country’s biggest app successes so far have come from naggingly addictive game apps such as Booooly!

Booooly! offers a twist on the usual match-three game by requiring players to match up at least four Boooolies of the same colour. When assembled in clusters the Boooolies explode and vanish, with extra points awarded for clusters of five or more. There are eight colours in all, which progressively reveal themselves as the player moves up through levels of difficulty.

For all its simplicity, Booooly! is, Money Today says, deceptively strategic. To gain the greatest advantage, you need to be selective in which Boooolies you explode, rather than just engaging in frenzied destruction. In addition, instead of slotting easily into allotted spaces, the Boooolies roll and bounce around, adding another challenge to the mix.

Booooly! has a live social media stream that lets players instantly share their progress with like-minded souls on Facebook and Twitter. An online leader board also enables you to compare your high score with players around the world, adding another impetus to forsake family and friends in pursuit of “match-four” glory.

The graphics are sharp with impressive-looking explosions, and the boooolies themselves display the kind of cutesy features that are so integral to many popular Korean games.

A top 10 hit throughout East Asia, an a top 100 hit worldwide, Booooly! retails for US$0.99 in Apple’s app store.


Name: MobiReader Biz+

OS: iOS, Android

Developer: DIOTEK

This fabulously practical app could spell the beginning of the end for business card holders and Rolodexes.

Using the phone’s camera, MobiReader Biz+ snaps biz cards and converts the content into text (which can be edited if there are any errors). If you place the card against a plain background and get all four of its borders in the frame, the app takes the shot automatically, so you don’t even have to press the button.

MobiReader Biz+ records all the contact info on the cards, and lets you flick through them on its virtual business card holder. When you find the one you’re looking for, you can email or call the person just by touching the screen.

Cooler still, integration with Google Maps means the app can plot your course to the address on your chosen business card, while a new augmented reality feature (shown left) can show you who’s in the vicinity. Even better for biz types, the app has a PDF conversion function and Google Docs.

Recognizing Korean and English, and with nine other UI languages, MobiReader Biz+ costs 7,900 won from T-Store and US$9.99 from Apple’s app store.

Name: PokeDrive Pro

OS: Windows Mobile

Developer: Pokevian

 Having made the jump from planes to cars, black boxes have now arrived on smartphones.

In a single video file, PokeDrive Pro records a video of your journey along with info on your location, speed, direction and the time. It can, Money Today says, be used with cars, motorbikes and even bicycles (though it doesn’t explain exactly where you’d need to perch your phone on the bike for the video function to work).

PokeDrive Pro has a strikingly clean interface, with speed, GPS reception and battery capacity displayed on the main screen. The recording kicks in when the app senses impact, but users can also activate recording by touching the speed icon on the main screen.

Among the many functions on the menu are a compass that can tell you your longitude and latitude, along with the direction you’re heading in. It can also calculate your average and highest speeds, while offering contrast control on the main picture, vibration correction and even a picture preview on the camera. Should you actually be involved in an accident, the app can also send out an automatic message to a pre-registered number. To look at the course of your journey, you can also playback any recordings from the app onto your PC.

PokeDrive Pro is available from the Show App Store for 9,900 won.

Name: mapcard2


Developer: Image Bakery

 The simplest of the four apps, mapcard2 lets you add detailed information — location, captions, memos and the like — to pictures you take while on your hols.

Money Today doesn’t offer too much more info on this app, other than to say it was recommended by a publication in Japan and Skyhook Wireless, a specialist in location-based technology. It is also, according to the headline, a favourite of Korean funnyman Chung Jong-chul, and app recommendations don’t come much higher than that.





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.)


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.