Korean Blogscence

Joi Ito’s Web
A very interesting article by Joi Ito about the blogscene in Korea vs the West. It concentrates on Ohmynews.com as an example.

Korea is reported by the OECD to have the highest high-speed Internet penetration of any nation. Korea has an extremely vibrant gaming, blogging, mobile phone and youth culture scene and I was eager to find out more about what was going on. I scribbled a bunch of notes over coffee during the day and over dinner. Please excuse any errors since I have not been able to fact check everything. If you could point them out and let me update them, I would appreciate it.

According to articles in the press, there are 5-6 million blogs. These are not to be confused with hompy. Hompy (a derivative of home page) are personal home pages with photo albums, guest books, avatars, background skins, and background music. There are approximately 10 million hompy pages. In a city with a population of 10 million and a country with a population of 45 million, that’s quite impressive. Companies seem to be making money selling background music and items for hompy pages. Most of the posts are focused on photos and one line comments on pages of friends. They are generally closed communities and are focused more on real-time presence-like communication rather than diary or dialog.

Cyworld, which sounded like the leader for hompys has a feature they call “scratch scrap”. This allows you to copy/paste content from other web pages easily to your hompy. On of the problems that I see with this is that this simple built-in feature does not provide a link back to the original source. It is rumored engineers who designed this left and joined Naver, one of the leading blog companies and created a similar feature for them. Generally speaking, it sounded like people don’t link very much. They are still mostly plain html and not css + xhtml. There seemed to be some trackback implementation, but it is not yet as widely used as in the US or Japan. As far as I could tell, none of the blog systems used any of the standard APIs, and some had RSS feeds. Blogs and hompys don’t seem to be pinging any pinger sites, which makes them nearly invisible to the outside world. In addition, many sites block search engine bots from crawling hompys and blogs.

It appears that one of the biggest problems is that there are several 800 pound gorilla type portals that remind me of AOL during it’s powerful years. They try to create walled gardens of users. With millions of bloggers and hompy users in each community, they are focused more on integrating inside of their portals than open standards or linking across portals. There are some independent blog services and aggregators, but they still seem to be focused on community and somewhat inward facing networks. A not-so-visibile majority of blogs in Japan and the US are also this way, but the public facing citizen journalist or pundit-style blogs seem to be very sparse in Korea.

One of the reasons might be due to the success of OhmyNews. I visited OhmyNews as well, and they are truly an online newspaper powerhouse. You can read about them in detail in Dan Gillmor’s We the Media, but they are a edited news website with droves of citizen journalists who submit articles. They have courses in writing for the citizen journalists, tip jars that people can pay them through, editors to help with the important stories, lots of influence and visibility and offline community activities. I can imagine that someone who had something political or pundit-like to say might easily choose to write for OhmyNews than to start a blog. This doesn’t describe everything, but I’m sure that OhmyNews has attracted a fair number of the potential media blogger types.

I still have a lot to learn but the incredible difference in the blogging scene and the apparent happiness with what the people had considering the widespread adoption made me wonder if the Korean blogs would ever look like American or Japanese blogs. (Many aspects of the Japanese blogging scene seem to be following in the footsteps of the US blogging scene, albeit with some differences.)

Sorry about the error. I was told however, that most bloggers and hompyiers didn’t cite or link. Someone said that the big portals encouraged because it allowed all of the content to be searched inside the portal, rather than offsite. Does anyone have any more information on this?

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