Thursday, September 22, 2005

South Korea: Leading the Way to Web 2.0?

South Korea, which leads the world in broadband penetration and delivers much faster average data rates than typically found in the U.S., is also a leader in the growth of online communities and grassroots journalism.

According to Business Week, less than four months after its launch, Cyworld, an online community service owned by SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless service provider, has attracted nearly a third of South Korea’s population and 90% of those in their late teens and early twenties. Though the service is free, it is already profitable, thanks in part to users’ purchases of “digital currency” with real money. SK plans to launch customized versions in Japan, China, Taiwan and the U.S. by yearend.

In the arena of grassroots journalism, South Korea’s five-year-old OhmyNews, whose motto is “every citizen is a reporter,” has, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “engaged its audience in ways that U.S. print and television news outlets, faced with a steep decline in readers and viewers, only dream of…The site has a cultlike following, among both writers thrilled to see their views spread widely and readers who say they like getting an uncensored, if uneven, version of the news.”

The site gets 1.7 million to 2 million page views each day, a number that shot up to 25 million during the December 2002 presidential election…When reformer Roh Moo Hyun won the tight presidential race, he granted his first domestic interview to OhmyNews — a slap to the conservative corporate daily papers that supported his rival.

The success of OhmyNews can be attributed in part to the high level of public engagement in this heavily wired, young democracy, where less than two decades have passed since military rule ended. Street protests are common, and citizens are eager to speak out online.

The privately held Web site has been profitable since September 2003 and is projected to pull in $10 million this year, [Jean Min, director of the international news division] said.

The site began an English-language edition in May, at english.ohmynews.com, and now has its sights set overseas. Several hundred citizen reporters have already signed up. So far, about 36 percent of English-language edition readers are from North America, 38.5 percent from Europe, and 16.7 percent from Asia outside South Korea.


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