Daum, Naver: Gardeners in Korea’s Walled Language Garden
Daum, Naver: Gardeners in Korea’s Walled Language Garden
  • Matthew Weigand
  • 승인 2009.06.01 15:59
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A walled garden is a media content term for a closed set of services, something like an information system monopoly. You can see it with game systems - Nintendo only allows its proprietary games to play on its system. You can also see it with mobile phone services - Verizon does not offer its services to phones of other vendors. Korea's dominance of Korean-language content accessible mostly through Daum and Naver has also been referred to as a walled garden, which accidentally or artificially limits Korean Internet users to a subset of the total content on the Internet. While this setup seems to give Koreans unrivaled access to each other, it also seems to cut them off from the wider, world-spanning Internet. And despite the appearance that Koreans seem to like it that way, this partially self-imposed isolation has stifling effects.

Someone who is used to the open, free access to information that Google provides might not quite understand how the Internet works in Korea, but it's like this: if you want to tell people about your cool new web site in Korea, you have to pay, and pay a lot. The Korean Internet landscape is dominated by two major players, two Internet portal sites. Daum, which means next in English, is the oldest, but by no means the best. It is a one-stop solution for all a Korean needs in the Internet. It offers email, a messenger program, forums, shopping malls, and news. Its front page is a gigantic wall of flashing, scrolling, multicolored text, which is exactly what its users expect and crave. Naver is much the same, but presented as a younger, hipper version. It has the larger slice of the Korean search traffic pie, and has some additional services such as Knowledge Search, where users can post questions which are answered by other users. These services do not crawl the Internet and produce search results based on popularity, or relevance, or user input - they produce search results based on who pays them more.

And that is the beginning and end of Korea's Internet scene. If you can't find it on Naver, and its not on Daum, it does not exist on the Korean Internet. Google, which received 64 percent of all searches in the US this month, accounts for only 3 percent of Korean searches. There is no other option for disseminating content to the Korean market besides these twin giants.

One of the most obvious problems with this setup is the development of innovative online services. In the marketplace that Google has created, a new web site with a great online service to offer just needs to attract a certain amount of pioneer users, and news will spread throughout the Internet to attract more. As a web site gains in popularity and/or relevance in a particular topic, its pages will rise on this tide to the first pages in a Google search. In a self-propagating trend, a site can reach its full potential just by focusing on creating an excellent service. However, in the Korean Internet landscape, it doesn't work that way. New companies rarely have the money required to be listed in effective places on the Korean portal sites. This means that new, innovative Internet services can only grow their user base at a much slower pace, which discourages online application developers from offering anything to the Korean market at all.

There are other drawbacks to this walled garden, such as the lack of access to unbiased sources of information and the quick spread of disinformation throughout the insular network, but those topics have been covered many times before. The fact that the Korean Internet marketplace stifles the innovation of new Internet services is quite enough to worry about now - because if 50 million captive flowers in this walled garden can be tended to so effectively by two gardeners, there is no hope for the weed of innovation to grow and revolutionize anything. And if that's true, Korean Internet users will be stuck in their own version of America Online for years to come.

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