Korea has taken the Internet very seriously, in many different ways. First, they have taken Internet connectivity very seriously, wiring their country up with a 92% broadband penetration rate. They have often been seen in the #1 spot in world broadband penetration rates, although this year that spot has been taken by the citystate of Singapore with a 99% broadband penetration rate. The most obvious reason for Korea's shameful fall to second place is the fact that Korea is not quite a citystate. It must be all those pesky provinces Seoul is surrounded by that are bringing it down.
This thick layer of wired infrastructure has served as an excellent platform for the development of a unique and intense Internet culture that is different from what the majority of Internet users are familiar with. And the center point of this unique Korean internet culture is the netizen. Netizens is the term used to refer to Korean citizens using the Internet. The term, when used in Korea, only refers to Korean Internet users. The netizens in Korea are loud, intensely critical, and even viewed as politically dangerous. They have a reputation for a raucous, irresponsible impact on real life, from such diverse issues as dog poop on the subway to the import of US beef in accordance with the KORUS FTA. Korean celebrities have been rumored to have committed suicide based on what they read online about themselves. Certain netizens have been arrested for what they have said online, and others have been sued. The government requirement for all major Korean online portals to ask for a person's national ID number when registering maps all online identities to real people, and can result in a lot of high-stakes drama.
Many of those who use the Internet are familiar with the rude, antisocial behavior that Internet anonymity or semi-anonymity seems to encourage. One of the most famous examples is Youtube's comment sections, which usually ends up being a cesspit of everything that shames one about humanity. In Korea, netizens are no different than that, however, their irresponsible comments are quoted in newspapers, responded to by politicians, become the cause of 100,000 person strong months-long political protests, and drive individual university students into hiding for fear of constant public shame.
But the Korean Internet is not all bad. Korea is also very good at sensible Internet service design and usage. While Facebook - a company that is said to be valued at over one billion dollars, has more than 100 million users and has become a household name - struggles to find a way to make money with all its resources, Korean equivalent Cyworld has no problems with profitablity. Cyworld offers customizable profile pages called Minihompis which display personal information of its users to the world, friends, or groups. The pages can be customized with skins, music, and animations for a small amount of dottori, a cyber-currency that can be bought with real money and which literally translates as acorn hats. Users can even install a virtual 2D room, buy a virtual 2D avatar to represent themselves and their closest buddies, and furnish the room with an almost infinite amount of furnishings, posters, and appliances, all with the cute, pixellated 2D charm of a Super Nintendo game.
So Korea's Webciety definitely does affect every aspect of Korea's lifestyle, and its unique aspects include solutions for problems that plague the Webcieties of other areas. For good or for bad, Korea's Webciety, and the Webciety of all of us, will continue to affect us all. In this CeBIT 2009, more aspects of the future of our Webciety will be decided. It would be wise to include both the positive and negative aspects of Korea's Webciety in these discussions. Korea has a lot to offer the world, and has been offering more and more in the past few years. Stop by Korea's booths and see what they are selling.