Reflections on the Mobile Web in Korea

Mobile Wednesday LogoI was very lucky this past week to have been invited to Seoul (along with the other members of the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices, Device Descriptions and Ubiquitous Web working groups) to participate in something that came to be know as Mobile Web Week.

The week of W3C working group meetings was punctuated by a day-long open workshop which we named W3C Mobile Wednesday. (Yes, my intention is to mobilize every day of the week – already we have had Mobile Monday and Mobile Sunday. Now Wednesday has fallen. Can Thursday be far behind?) Mobile Wednesday was actually a unique opportunity to hear from people working in Korea on the sharp end of the Mobile Web and to do a little bit of a sales job about the work we’ve been doing in the W3C Mobile Web Initiative and why it might be relevant there.

One factor that greatly helped create a feeling of open dialog was the presence of simultaneous translation during the whole event. It’s a luxury I almost never get to experience, but it really can help to facilitate discussion when someone else is worrying about the burden of translation. The translators were a wonder – deftly dealing with sometimes very thick technical discussion, especially during the panel sessions.

Besides Mobile Wednesday, I also had the pleasure of speaking to many Koreans living and breathing the Mobile Web, including representatives of the Mobile Web 2.0 Forum, the Korean W3C office, ETRI, and of the Korean companies involved in W3C activities, such as SK-Telecom and Samsung.

So – what impressions am I left with after this week?

I have more questions than answers, but my overall impressions are that the challenges to the growth of the mobile Web in Korea are similar to the challenges the world over. Perceptions about usage and comparisons to the “real web” are also a problem. I have to respectfully disagree with a statement made by one of the other conference speakers that Korean use of the Mobile Web hasn’t taken off because “Koreans already have very high speed access to the Web at home and at the office.” Yes, Broadband penetration is really high in Korea. However, the use cases for using the Web on the move are different from the use cases for using it in front of a computer. Other speakers at the event highlighted some of these, particular social gaming and one-to-many messaging. Interesting side-note, nobody seemed to know what Twitter was but there are apparently a couple of similar Korean services.

One basic challenge Koreans might have to bringing the Web to the phone is the high use of Flash. Seems that most Korean (PC) Web sites are full of Flash content. Even the photo of me that appeared in the Korean tech news article was embedded in Flash for some reason. The fact that these sites aren’t working on even highly sophisticated mobile browsers is no doubt putting people off the concept of mobilizing the Web.

In any case, it was a very educational an informative week. Special thanks go out to Jonathan Jeon (전종홍) for his role in putting it all together and for posting some great video of the Mobile Wednesday event (see link).

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1 Comment on “Reflections on the Mobile Web in Korea

  1. Hi there! I’m also in Korea right now and I’m very curious about the Korean mobile web. I’m writing about it here:

    http://www.quicklybored.com/2008/09/the-korean-mobile-web-where-is-it-lacking/

    I was curious whether you have any updates on this subject. I will be judging a mobile content awards in a few days, and this subject is a top priority for me. One thing I am interested in, is whether there is state control of the mobile web. Something I have heard from my Western friends here.

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