UPDATE (7 Aug 2015): Having just recovered my blog’s earliest posts and added them to my database, I find myself bewildered reading this. Obviously there were blogs in Korea in 2003—I mention a few—and I was just baffled at how they hadn’t become a mainstream, phenomenon yet in Korea, as they were starting to do in the English-speaking world.
Korea caught up, later, and blogs had their day here as in the outside world. Now, everyone knows what blogs are, though they seem to have survived about as poorly in Korea as anywhere—having been slaughtered by Twitter and Facebook (especially the latter).
So think of the following as more of a snapshot of my struggling to understand how Korea could be so wired—with faster internet than anywhere on Earth, at the time, and more internet users per capita—and yet have such a radically different idea of how the internet was supposed to look like, work like, and be used. It’s a struggle that in some ways continues for me today, if less ardently.
Original Post: A great deal of my energy lately has been devoted to two things… the (still incomplete) migration of this blog from Blogger over to my own server and into the Movable Type system, and catching up with my swimming class.
After swimming class, I had an interesting talk with my swimming partner, mainly about our rather different web projects. I was trying to explain the idea of an RSS feed specifically about the basic idea of a blog in general, and I found that I was suddenly trying to figure out if this was a cultural difference. She didn’t know what a blog was until I made one and sent her the link, and I’ve found that most Koreans (at least where I live) are quite computer literate, but don’t know what blogs are.
Which is very strange. After all, my friend is very web-aware, but so are Koreans. I once explained something to my girlfriend about webmail systems, and elicited an vaguely annoyed and somewhat amused response to the tune of, “OF COURSE I already know that, I’m not stupid!” The funny thing is that an intelligent Western friend of mine, when I told him the story, told me that he’d only just discovered that feature himself a few weeks before. And it was the kind of thing that I really would have assumed I would need to explain to most of my (make no mistake) intelligent and somewhat web-literate friends back in Canada.
It was just one of those little reminders that Korea is a completely different place when it comes to communications technology. The internet here is so widely (and cheaply) accessible and indispensible that when people go abroad they sometimes experience communications withdrawal. This is the product of many things, not the least government investment in technology since the time of the Asian Financial Crisis (or, as Koreans call it, the IMF Crisis). Your average Korean over twenty is at least somewhat (and from experience I’d suggest often) more web-literate than your average Westerner of the same educational level and comparable economic status.
Still, to date no Korean I have talked to has been aware of the concept of a blog. One reason is probably that all the blogging software I’ve run across is mainly in Western languages (with a little Japanese here and there). And of course, another reason is that in Korea, just as with the huge corporations in business (called the chaebols), a few major portals dominate Korean web traffic and activity. More than that: they define it for the most part, and shape it inherently. The few I know of are daum (by far the biggest) and naver.
I mentioned that my friend has web projects. However, in Korea the most common kind of web project (I think more common even than personal websites, because of the free cost and the readymade structure) is the daum cafe. One example of a daum cafe I can point to here is my band’s daum cafe. Another is my swimming partner’s project. If the Korean text shows up as garble on your PC, don’t worry about it. The reason I included the links is to provide you a place to peek, mainly to look at structure, if you are curious. For the daum cafe is mainly a kind of structure. It has room for members to upload music, images, and other files, and it has a discussion board that allows for group members to banter and exchange information, chat and tease on another.
I would say that in terms of configurability, and ready-to-use quality, a daum cafe is rougly about as usable as a blogger blog. And as you can see from my currently newest project (which is still waiting for its migration over to this server), it’s certainly possible to blog in Korean. Yet nobody does it.
I don’t think the barrier is language, in addition. I have friends with only passable English who have constructed their own web pages, sometimes even writing raw HTML (that is, raw English-language html) in parts. I think the difference might in part be cultural… that is, as well as the too-important to overlook limitation of apparent choice by the major portals. Because the thing is, blogs are individualistic constructions. They are most often one person’s soapboax, and while you can probably set up registration and membership on a blog, for example by having multiple authors, that’s less common than in the daum cafe model, where it is an absolutely definitive factor of a cafe, whose webspace size is determined by the number of registered members.
It could be that this is all a load of hooey, I don’t know, but it struck me as interesting that there is so much creativity and energy in the West being devoted to a very individualistic kind of web phenomenon. But in Korea, web content and web venues are about community, connecting to a stable group of people whose relationship means something and defines something larger.
I wonder if the blog will ever catch on here. I’m interested to see. More on this maybe later…