Surfing the web in South Korea

As we all know, South Korea is famous for its Internet landscape: high adoption rates and high bandwidth. However, on browsing the web in South Korea I have some mixed feelings. Of course the speed is very high. Up- and downloading speed is very high. Even higher than my subscription (one of the fastest available from UPC)  in the Netherlands. However, the speed at YU considerably slower. In the Netherlands, in my experience, speed at universities are higher than in regular homes.

The websites in South Korea have an altogether different feel, appearance (whatchamacallit)  than western web pages. Important is of course the Hangeul character set. These characters seem to make the design more delicate. This is enhanced by the use of light and pastel colours on the page. Furthermore the pages often have some animation as the builds up quickly. See for instance these pages of YeungNam University, Lotte department store, and Ohmynews.

Unfortunately, there is a big problem, especially for people coming from abroad. All websites and computers are totally dedicated to Microsoft. First of all, you will not find any other browser than Internet Explorer. While the European Union forces Microsoft to show all different browsers while starting up the newly bought computer, in South Korea you are forced to use Internet Explorer. Without it you will not venture far in Korean cyberspace. Not only that, the dominant IE version is 6,  whereas Internet Explorer 8 is already released some time ago. There is an important reason for this: it turns out many Korean websites use ‘Active X’ controls for loading apps into the browser. Because it is not supported for other browsers, people only can use IE. Apart from this, ‘Active X’ is been said to suffer from security issues.

Coming to South Korea, oblivious of this issue and assuming browsing is browsing, using Firefox became quite frustrating. Gmail simply didn’t work on my university computer: I’d see my list of emails but was not able to open any of them. So what do you do when you’re an avid Firefox user with many add-ons installed, do you switch to Internet Explorer? I didn’t. Why? Well, when using Internet Explorer for all more special navigation activities, I was asked to install all kind of ActiveX things. What they were I still don’t know, because it was in Korean. My colleagues at YU assured me it was OK to install them. Also, it appears slow, and has little additional functionality. So, I decided to abort the use of IE altogether. Now, I use Google Chrome, and it works fine but not perfect. OK it’s lightweight, but little additional functionality. And in South Korea it is also a bit buggy: sometimes, I navigate to another website by clicking a link, which is not an uncommon thing to do. Then, Chrome tells me the link is broken. Oh? Then, copy-pasting the URL in the address bar subsequently shows no problems with the link whatsoever.

So, I still miss my Firefox, especially because of some essential Firefox add-ons, such as Zotero, Delicious, Downthemall! and Mouse-gestures. I hope for the Korean people and for researchers in general things change rapidly, because although Korea is famous for its Internet speed and Internet adoption, it is also infamous for the Microsoft monopoly.

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Maurice Vergeer

I am Maurice Vergeer, working at Communication Science department of the Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands.