Startup Seoul

Web 2.0 | 2009/07/01 15:19 | Web 2.0 Asia

This is a hopelessly belated post, but recently there was Startup Seoul (link in Korean), a great event put together by three startup entrepreneurs - David Lee, John Kim, and Daesan Hwang

The event was held in the chic office of Zenitum, where David works. Two startups presented their services in front of other startup folks, who provided some intense feedback. The presenters were SundayToz and HugeFlow. SundayToz is a social games startup, and they are just about to unveil an RPG game on Facebook; HugeFlow, a Silverlight and RIA (rich internet app) specialty house, is trying to apply their RIA technologies to create a more interactive, user content-rich online map. 

Overall, my expectations were totally exceeded. We had great startups, the food was good, and the discussions had substance. People always ask me if there is any good web startup meetups they can join, and I think Startup Seoul can be a good one. (The next one hasn't been scheduled yet, but you can stay tuned.) Given one of the organizers hail from Canada (that's David), I'm sure the event is pretty open to English-only speakers too. 

Naver Japan search finally unveiled

Web 2.0 | 2009/06/17 14:12 | Web 2.0 Asia

Naver Japan search, the culmination of years of hard work by the Korean search giant, has finally been unveiled and is now available to some 5,000 beta testers. Reviews are already coming in, and based on the initial impressions and feedbacks, it looks like the service is quite well received among the closed beta testers. 

What's noticeable even at the first sight is the clean UI. The Naver hallmark green hues are used quite extensively but in an eye-pleasing way. On the front page, hot search queries are placed prominently (using flash graphics), showing current memes and attracting impluse clicks. 

Image from Hatena Blog

Naver uses flash graphics to create a graphically rich UI, much in contrast to the bare-bones UI of Google and Baidu. For example, images on the universal search results page are displayed with a coverflow interface (see below). And the use of flash graphics doesn't seem to particularly slow down the sites. Besides, what might also help is that Japan is already one of the top countries in the world in terms of broadband use. 

Image from Hatena Blog

Naver is arguably the pioneer of universal search, where different types of search results are displayed together on one big screen so that user can find all related stuff in one place. Naver Japan gives universal search results as the default view, but in addition to universal search, Naver also offers other interesting search types (navigatable by choosing different tabs.)

In addition to image and video search, "Kuchikomi (クチコミ)" search allows searching for "what people say about this topic" and displays BBS or Q&A content. "Theme (テーマ)" search shows related topics or categories associated with a certain search keyword so that user can do search focusing on a specific category. For example, for a search term "BMW", Naver Theme search gives "Car", "Film", "Person/group", "Game", "Sports", etc. Choose "Car" and you naturally get BMW cars as search results; Choose "Person/group" and you get people related to BMW, such as team BMW race drivers. 

Also "Matome (まとめ)" tries to employ user participation for search results. User can create a topic page and populate that page with content, which will be given out as search results when other people search for that topic on Matome search. User can create a links collection page, image/video collection page, quotes collection page, or custom content page for a given keyword. For instance, you can create a tell-it-all page for Macbook Pro. It's sort of a combination of Wikipedia and search, it seems. 

It remains to be seen if Naver will see a similar level of success in Japan as it had in Korea, but at least this much is clear: Naver seems to have achieved a difficult feat of creating a service that's well localized for the target market, while not losing its home-brewed forte and identity. For Naver, success in the Japanese market is ever important. Japan service will be the "canary in a coalmine" for Naver, as it will tell Naver if their success formula is just a Korean thing or something that can work anywhere else in the world. 

Exploring the possibilities of interactive media

Other | 2009/06/16 14:34 | Web 2.0 Asia

Note: This is a guest post by Jean K. Min, former director of international division at OhmyNews. The post is excerpt from Min's presentation on May 21 for the Infinity Ventures Summit in Sapporo, Japan. 

David Carnoy, a technology news reporter at CNET, had a burning question: just how old Amazon Kindle e-book readers actually are? As Amazon Kindle has been increasingly touted among the old media circle as one of the most likely saviors of the dying newspapers, it was an interesting question that merits a deeper look.

Since Amazon has released no official data about the demographic profile of Kindle users, Carnoy conducted an unscientific “poll” in the forum, asking how old the forum’s Kindle users were. His finding gleaned from over 700 responses came as a rude wake-up call for some newspaper moguls who had pinned their hope on the popular e-book reader--some 70 percent of Kindle users were over 40’s.

Carnoy’s discovery, although low in scientific rigors, has confirmed my long-held suspicion if Kindle, apparently popular among relatively older user groups, is simply going to replicate the old habits of analogue age news-reading in the digital form, hence losing the opportunity to exploit the vast potential of the online news. Readers over 40’s should be generally considered ‘digital immigrants’ and if Amazon failed to attract digital natives--those in their 10s to 30s--to Kindle, its long-term future seems doomed. 

Many believe that people read newspapers to look for new information; however I believe newspaper reading is largely out of habits, a daily ritual to be reminded that they still belong to the society, not left alone in the dark. Digital natives, on the other hand, had had no chance to form a strong attachment to the peculiar newspaper smell. To many, their first contact with the news usually was on the Internet, where news-reading is not so much a search for the information as a catch-up with the talk of the town. 

No wonder that the most popular services in many online news sites are usually the "most read," "most emailed," "most blogged" or "most searched" news section. However, they are not just useful indicators for tracking the hottest issues of the town today--they are the collective editorial decisions emerging from the implicit participation of readers, feasible only in the online space.

In a highly competitive society such as Korea where people are driven by the permanent anxiety that they might be left behind alone in the dark, excluded from the top conversations of the peers, the importance of the Web's amazing feature that allows readers to track the "most-talked-about topics" is even more pronounced. 

DAUM, a major Korean portal, even tracks and publishes the demographic, geographic and, yes, psychographic profiles of readers for every news article they publish, making it handy for its readers to follow the current buzz among different groups. You want to know what women in their 40's living in Seoul are reading about this morning? DAUM has an answer for you and will update it as you are reading.

Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers, on the contrary, is the device that simply presents the editorial decision made from the above. Still, Sankei Shimbun, a conservative Japanese daily has decided early this year to join the e-book trend by distributing its newspapers in the print form via its iPhone application, repackaging the print age editorial decision from the above for the iPhone generation.

The case of Amazon Kindle and Sankei's iPhone app, however, looks like another example to me that proves how difficult it is to shatter the old habits bequeathed from the print age. 

Newspapers, I believe, do not necessarily have to resort to the Internet to turn itself to an interactive media, however. Here is one suggestion; what if newspapers print a following announcement on every Monday paper--"Here are some story ideas we you want you to vote for." Editors can select from the story ideas that earned the most votes on its Web site and ask their staff writers to turn them into actual stories. Newspapers, though limited in its scale, can encourage editorial participation of their readers this way, turning them from passive consumers of the free content to involved stakeholders. Actually, this would be a much more important benefit of this editorial contraption.

Old habits die hard. When the IT industry buzzed about the "Web publishing tools" back in the early 1990's, the publishing world's old habits stick to the Internet, blinding the people from the exciting potential of the new medium. It took nearly full ten years for the industry to understand the true interactive nature of the "read and write Web".

The real crux of the matter is that the same mistakes will be repeated in the mobile Internet age--the old habits left from the Cyberspace era will blind us again from discovering the new rules of the hybrid space that is "memosphere".

News, The Killer App.

Jean K. Min joined OhmyNews as a director of international division in early 2004. Since then he programmed and executed the launching of  OhmyNews International, its English language edition with an aim to replicate OhmyNews' success home on the global stage. 
A life-time follower of Marshall McLuhan, he experimented with various medium as a communication designer at Cheil Communications, Samsung's in-house advertising agency. He also contributed to the launching of, an influential political web zine in Korea that, together with OhmyNews, played a vital role in electing the former South Korean reformist president Roh in 2002.

He is currently profiling the latest development in Korean technology sector in Planet Size Brain.

Who said Twitter is only for individuals? Korean Twitter users are gathering together and making self introductions on a site devoted to "the ice-breaking among Korean Twitterers". User can make a self-intro of up to 500 characters by twitting with "#self_intro ... #+" hashtag. The site was built by web expert Chris Kwon. I wonder when Yuna Kim will say hi on this forum. Go check it out at here

TAG twitter

LG Telecom, Korea's third largest wireless carrier (think Softbank Mobile of Japan), announced its wireless internet service offering (branded "Oz") has seen the usage growth of 600% in just one year. The success is mostly attributed to the introduction of super-cheap flat data rate i.e. the 6,000 KRW, or roughly $5, monthly plan. Capped at 1GB of use, the plan is not unlimited - but 1GB can get you so far if you are not obsessively browsing data-heavy mobile sites. 

So it's another evidence that the biggest road block to the wider use of mobile services is the price. LGT was clever in that it didn't promote something like $20 unlimited plan, but rather lowered the barrier of entry by introducing super cheap plan that gives fairly good data use, thereby encouraging the first-time users to try out mobile data service. As of May 2009, LGT has 18% market share in Korea, while KTF has 31%, SKT 51%. 

TAG LG Telecom, LGT, Oz

Itgling allows threaded blogging, akin to Gmail

Web 2.0 | 2009/06/12 13:13 | Web 2.0 Asia
Itgling (pronounced It-glee-ing) is a new blogging service from Korea that tries to foster threaded communication among bloggers. After a quick spin, I find it a pretty unique and clever concept. 

Traditionally, the way readers engage with a blog post has been pretty much limited to comments and trackbacks. But both have their limitations though. Comments are a good discussion channel, but they are generally short-lived and not copied back onto the commenter's own blog or site. That's why so many long, thoughtful comments that are absolutely as worthy as a blog post (or even a column) don't see the light of the day as new blog posts. To solve this, trackback has come out; Trackback allows blog posts to behave like comments. But trackbacks are so difficult to understand and use that they've been mostly embraced by geek bloggers only. 

That's where Itgling comes in. Itgling allows bloggers inspired by a specific blog post to write related blogs very easily. When a blogger sees an interesting blog article and wants to add his thoughts, he can click to write "Itgle" (pronounced it-gle), meaning "connected story" in Korean. Then the story appears on the bottom of the original article. This way, related stories are connected through a "vertical" thread. If there is more than one "Itgle" (connected story) on the same level of vertical hierarchy, those stories are "horizontally" aggregated together, divided by tabs. 

For example, in the screen grab below, there are three blog posts about movies in the gray box. All three posts were composed as connected stories for the parent post, shown on the top. The three posts are on the same hierarchical level and are aggregated together, separated by tabs. 

The selected "connected story" itself has 2 connected stories, which are displayed on the bottom. You can write yet another connected story simply by clicking on "Write Itgle" button. 

This way, related stories are easily written and added to the thread, and the readers can follow the whole chain of discussions more easily. Itgles work essentially like trackbacks, but are much more intuitive and easier to use than trackbacks - finally trackback for normal people!

Overall impression of Itgling is that it makes reading and writing related blog stories in an easy and intuitive way, similar to the way Gmail made following email threads much easier. The down side of Itgling is that actions are only happening on the Itgling site itself, not on one's own blog. Itgling is still in closed beta.  

TAG Itgle, Itgling

Yet again, no iPhone for Korea

Mobile | 2009/06/12 10:52 | Web 2.0 Asia

In the recent WWDC 2009, Apple announced iPhone 3G S and gave the list of countries the phone will be available - Korea wasn't included in the list this time again. Korea is just about the only developed country that doesn't have an iPhone yet. When countries like Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Qatar are getting their iPhones soon (nothing against those countries, by the way) and yet South Korea, the world's 11th economy, isn't getting one, there's something seriously wrong there. 

Including my friend Danny, Korean bloggers are not hesitating to express their disappointments over the no-iPhone news. Both SKT and KTF, the leading carriers of Korea, have been in talks with Apple to introduce iPhone in Korea, for quite a long time. But both companies seemed to have backed out a little bit now, saying they couldn't strike mutually beneficial business deals with Apple. Well, that's just a polite way of saying that Apple demanded too much. But then, given the huge success of iPhone, Apple may actually deserve to demand much. Now carriers have to admit Apple's got the upper hand in the smartphone game. 

But it might actually go deeper than that. Out of fear to become "dumb bit pipes", Korean wireless carriers have been working so hard to transform themselves into digital content empires by acquiring content companies and building a tight control over the content value chain. But iPhone is all about getting out of carrier value chain: web browsing on WiFi networks or App Store downloads have nothing to do with carriers. So the fact that the carriers haven't yet fully recouped their massive content investment might be the true reason, or at least part of the reason, why Korea still doesn't have an iPhone yet. 

TAG Apple, iPhone, KTF, SKT
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