Finding your way in Korean cyberspace

Search engines are the portals to the web. Who has the largest market share of web visitors controls people’s way into the ever expanding meta-verse (this is how Neal Stephenson called a virtual world not unlike the web, but more intricate). As a westerner you think the greatest players on this search engine market are Google by Google and Bing by Microsoft, and Yahoo as well. Not so in South Korea.


In South Korea, Google is just a minor player. Google Korea has a market share of appr. 2.2%. So, not that special. Then recently, they lost Daum’s major advertisement contract  to competitor Yahoo.

Apparently, as a last effort to increase the market share Google’s virginal search page will be revamped with news and information, blogs and photo’s. Is this a desperate last effort to have a viable Google outlet in South Korea, or is this an indication that a global mogul cannot stand it being tiny in one country?

Although Korea is a significant market, one could question why Google wants to put so much effort in increasing their market share. It’ll be more and more difficult, because the third largest search engine operator Nate (owner of Cyworld) restyled its portal, by incorporating the Cyworld logon screen onto the search page. Doing so they hope to increase traffic on their website. The ultimate goals is to take over the number 2 position from Daum.

A few things are clear. Google is not always successful. Google will localize their search page in other countries, when they need to (for whatever reason). Google will stay tiny, unless Korean industry innovates to other and new platforms. If Google wants to win over Korean hearts, it’s best they focus on Google Chrome OS, thereby creating a new following on the search engine market, and freeing Koreans from the dominant power of Microsoft. However, I think this will take quite some time.

Two in a row

Today, two of my publications went online on the website of Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. One study, titled Consequences of media and Internet use for offline and online network capital and well-being. A causal model approach, co-authored by Ben Pelzer. This is the abstract:

This study sets out to identify relations between people’s media use, network capital as a resource, and loneliness. Unlike many studies on this topic, this study aimed to test hypotheses on a national sample, and used insights from empirical research and theoretical notions from different research areas. Data collected via telephone interviews in 2005 were analyzed with Structural Equation Modeling. The assumption that traditional and new media destroy social capital is not supported empirically.Moreover, online network capital augments offline network capital and web surfing coincides with more online socializing. However, this additional capital appears not to have benefits in terms of social support and loneliness. The reverse causal relation between loneliness and media use also could not be established.

The second study, written by Liesbeth Hermans, me and  Leen dHaenens, is on how journalists use the Internet in journalism: Internet in the Daily Life of Journalists: Explaining the use of the Internet by Work-Related Characteristics and Professional Opinions. One of the most interesting findings is that practical considerations determine the use of the Internet stronger than professional considerations such as credibility and accuracy do.

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.