Open Dictionary is a natural-language English expression search service, brought by a prominent English education institute in Korea. The idea is simple enough; You enter a sentence in Korean, and then Open Dictionary finds the best English expression for the particular sentence for you. Open Dictionary is sort of a Google universal search for English studies: It crawls data from various sources, including news articles, Q&A content, literatures, bible, and even movie clips. 

It's a pretty simple service, but I find it working quite okay. When I typed "당신은 정말 멋져요" (You look gorgeous), Open Dictionary gave me some quite relevant search results. The service also allows viewers to add annotations to provide tips, which could come handy when experts (e.g. English teachers) could add more context to a certain expression. ("By the way, this is a great pick-up line at the bar.")

Samsung Bada is Yet Another Mobile Platform

Mobile | 2009/11/11 13:45 | Web 2.0 Asia

Samsung announced its new mobile platform called Bada. Bada means "Ocean" in Korean; the word can also mean "to download" (an app), so I guess branding-wise, Bada couldn't have been more aptly named, at least for Korean-speaking audience.

So what is Bada? The "About" section of Bada homepage gives an intro, which I think is unnecessarily long and yet somehow fails to get to the point. In a nutshell, Bada is Samsung's Symbian. Bada entails a new, Samsung-developed smartphone operating system, Samsung's app store, and Samsung app developer program.

So Bada joins Symbian, iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry as yet another "mobile apps platform". One has to wonder why the world needs yet another "platform" when it has iPhone and Android, but after all this might not be insignificant, given Samsung's footprint in the global mobile handset market. Samsung's Q3 2009 worldwide market share was 21.0%, putting itself in a solid #2 spot and getting more and more neck-and-neck with Nokia (37.8%). Of course these are total sales and we would see a significantly different landscape if we focus only on smartphones, which Bada seems to focus on. But one can imagine the proportion of smartphones in Samsung's phone lineup will only grow, hence the higher importance of Bada. For developers though, Bada may translate into yet another platform to customize their apps to.

Remember Lycos? One of the original internet search pioneers, Lycos was pretty big back in the nineties. I still remember people almost automatically citing Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Lycos as the "top three" major internet search services (This was pre-Google). To this date, the company's mascot, the black German Shepherd, is pretty strongly entrenched in the memories of many people who had ever experienced the Dot Com boom. 

Those were the heydays for Lycos, but the company went downhill as the Dot Com boom became Dot Com bust. The company ended up in the hands of Spain's Terra Group, and then later got sold again to Korea's Daum. Lycos didn't flourish under Daum's ownership either -- Lycos was a money-losing business for Daum for a long time, eating away Daum's what little profits. 

But (drum rolls please) not anymore. Recently Lycos announced the company posted the first profit in over 5 years. Jungwook Lim, Lycos CEO (whom I know well), is obviously gung-hoed by the company's surprising turnaround. According to Lim, Lycos posted around $1mm quarterly profit in Q3 '09. This is a remarkable feat, especially given the fact that Lycos is not a major internet destination site anymore. 

It remains to be seen if Lycos will continue posting profits, or more fundamentally, churn out good services that will put Lycos on the map yet once again. But Lim and co. definitely deserve huge credit and kudos for what they have already achieved. Turning Lycos around? That's a heck of a job. 

Cyworld US Doesn't Know "Graceful Sunset"

Web 2.0 | 2009/11/09 23:12 | Web 2.0 Asia

This is from last week, but definitely needs revisiting. Cyworld US announced it's closing its service. Well, services can close (though basically it's a disaster and it shouldn't happen, as people lose their data), but the real problem is how horribly the company is handling the whole situation. I am appalled by the lack of professionalism in the email notice they sent out. How could they not hire a single English-speaking person to write an email of this importance? The email is so full of grammatical errors that almost half of commenters in the Techcrunch article actually think it was poorly translated by Google Translate, while the email was originally written in English. 

Thank you to all members with Cyworld.

Due to Cyworld shuts down US service, US Cyworld will no longer be able to service. We sincerely apologize for shutting down the service with unavoidable reason.
Before US cyworld close the service, you will continue to access to US cyworld contents but not purchase items. Also, you will not use your acorns.
If you have unused acorns, you will be given a full refund for paid acorns only.

Refunds and data backup service is in progress, using the acorn will no longer be able to purchase for miniroom items, skins, etc.

@ Schedule for closing US Cyworld service
Due to Data Back-up and closing service issues, the service will be unavailable.

* Shop service will be unavailable since Nov 03, 2009
Club service, Profile photo/data upload serivce will be unavailable since Nov 23, 2009

But the poor English aside, a more fundamental issue is how they handle the user data. They do not provide any data back-up (in .zip or .xml), nor do they provide a smooth transition path to other Cyworld domains (such as Cyworld Korea). They are so hastily taking off that they are leaving everyone's data behind. This is so wrong. Apparently "graceful retirement" is not in their dictionary. Well, judging from the quality of their email, I wonder if they have a dictionary in the first place. 

Before discounting Koreans in general, I would like to say that this is a rather universal case of a big company screwing a small startup it had purchased without understanding the whole industry thoroughly. (Cyworld had been acquired by SK Telecom, and reportedly many senior Telecom folks had moved out to Cyworld to head its business).

TAG cyworld, cyworld US, Engrish

ShowStreet, dubbed "Virtual Street Walk", displays actual photos of streets on top of Google Maps, making user feel as if he was virtually walking along the street. The service is now live in New Zealand, and will soon be launched in Australia too. 

Users initially see the customized version of Google Maps where streets of interest are highlighted (blue lines in the picture above). Click on one of the streets, and the actual photos of the selected street will be displayed on the top half of the screen, so that user can see the building facades and shop fronts. User can scroll the photos left and right, and the location marker on the Google Maps move correspondingly. 

Local shops and businesses are tagged with clickable links; Click on the link, and the popup layer displays shop information such as phone number, business hours, and reviews. ShowStreet also allows business owners to add their business information to ShowStreet directly (See video). 

ShowStreet is a product of collaboration between Korea's PlayStreet, which I had covered in this blog earlier, and a New Zealand company called Web Concepts. This creates a great case of a Korean web service getting launched in other countries through partnership. 

Often, internationalization means launching an English version, which many people somehow automatically accept to be the same thing as launching in the US market. But of course the two may not be the same, and launching an English version in a non-US market first may also be a good way to test the waters, potentially with lower costs. With the experiences gained from New Zealand and Australian market under the belt, the PlayStreet/ShowStreet team would hopefully be better prepared to launch a more rock-solid US/global service. 

TAG maps, playstreet, RainD, Showstreet, Web concepts

Korea's Office of National Tax Services (Korean IRS, if you will) announced (link in Korean) it will roll out "fake whiskey detection service" starting from October. The plan is to attach RFID chips that contain production history data to whiskey bottles, so that anyone with a cellphone can use a plug-in scanner (which is to be stored in major bars and pubs) to see if the costly bottle of liquor he is about to order is real or bogus. National Tax Services is rolling this out to make sure they are collecting liquor taxes to the fullest. They are starting with 2 million bottles of whiskey. 


From articles like this, one can incur a few things: 

1. Koreans are some seriously heavy drinkers
2. Despite being the world's 11th economy, Korea apparently has fair amount of fake whiskey 
3. The number of wacky things you can do with your cell phone is only increasing

SK Telecom App Store: No Shortage Of Criticism

Mobile | 2009/09/15 00:54 | Web 2.0 Asia

Picture from Digital Times

Perhaps SK Telecom shouldn't have launched their newest app store, dubbed "T-Store". There had been a lot of hypes before its launch, but when the SKT T-Store finally got unveiled, people got massively disappointed, if not shocked: Users can browse apps on the web via dedicated PC application, just like on the iPhone app store, but when it comes to downloading the purchased apps, the only possible channel in most cases is via the expensive 3G network -- No download via PC application or Wifi supported (link in Korean). 

If someone not subscribed to data unlimited plan downloads a mobile game from SKT app store, he will have to pay around $4-5 for the 3G network usage alone, in addition to paying for the game itself. SKT doesn't give specific warnings on the data charges to be incurred on their app store; Also SKT is charging normal data fees on app store, not the smartphone data fees (about half the price). 

Anyone even remotely familiar with iPhone app store wouldn't even call this an app store. This is a PR disaster for SKT too, as they witness an outpouring of complaints from media reporters and bloggers. Twitter is also filled with those "What were they thinking?" twits. 

SKT says WIPI is to blame, as WIPI does not allow content download via PC application (the so-called "side loading"). WIPI is the mobile application standard that Korea had kept for a long time, until about a year ago. That might be true; SKT may not have any control over WIPI. But there are things SKT does have a far better control -- things like supporting Wifi on smartphones and lowering the expensive 3G data charges. Believe it or not, while Korea is home to some of the fiercest iPhone fighters (Samsung and LG), most smartphones sold in here do not carry Wifi functionalities altogether, presumably at the request of carriers. Interestingly enough, there is a study (link in Korean) that suggests carriers would actually lose more money if they don't support Wifi, as more 3G usage would mean even heavier investment on building the 3G infrastructure. 

TAG SK Telecom, SKT, T-Store, wipi
◀ Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 55 Next ▶