Friday, January 3, 2014

VICE "Motherboard" says Baidu top in Korea?


Poor use of data by VICE

 
VICE's magazine feed "Motherboard" a few months ago ran a piece (now here) on the dominant websites in countries around the globe. It's a fairly interesting piece, with one glaring misstatement, easily spotted to anyone with any familiarity with Korea (emphasis mine):
A second map shows the same data but the countries are drawn according to population instead of geographic size. Viewed through that lens, it’s clear that Baidu, which dominates super-dense China and South Korea, shouldn’t be discounted.
Here's What the Age of Internet Empires Looks Like - Motherboard
Since when does Baidu have such a dominating presence in Korea? South Korea is dominated by its homegrown search portal Naver. Some estimates place Naver's dominance at between 70~80%. Even Alexa knows Naver is #1. Granted, Chinese-originating peoples in Korea, make up the largest amount of foreigners in Korea, but at 780,000/50,220,000 (based on quick Wikipedia numbers, that's still just 1.5% of the population. Naver gets around 30 million unique visitors each month (source). So unless each Chinese-originating person in Korea is secretly 38 people stacked on top of each other in a large trench coat, all of whom are obsessively Baidu-ing things (like maybe looking for shops that sell big size trench coats), the numbers just don't add up.

The real authors knew this


And what I find most damning about VICE's sloppy journalism is that the report they cite already knew this. The Motherboard article is really just a puff piece reprinting of the results of a study apparently undertaken by the Information Geographies at the Oxford Internet Institute.These guys (smarty pants Oxford scholars that they are) were awake enough to catch-on to the absurdity of Baidu dominating Korea, and offered this caveat in their own report:
The situation is more complex in Asia, as local competitors have been able to resist the two large American empires. Baidu is well known as the most used search engine in China, which is currently home to the world’s largest Internet population at over half a billion users. At the same time, we see a puzzling fact that Baidu is also listed as the most visited website in South Korea (ahead of the popular South Korean search engine, Naver). We speculate that the raw data that we are using here are skewed. However, we may also be seeing the Baidu empire in the process of expanding beyond its traditional home territory.
Information Geographies
Perhaps data is being misinterpreted from undersea cable lines between China-Korea? Don't ask me: I'm not a billion dollar media empire like VICE, or a data network analyzer, but as a longtime resident of Korea, I do know that Baidu's "dominance" of South Korea is a highly questionable claim.

Rant on North Korean engagement 


By the way, on principle, I don't support tourist travel to North Korea, when its a useless quirky luxury that does nothing to help the impoverished people there and only lines the pockets of a corrupt regime. Nonetheless, the videos shot by VICE while there were fascinating, even if their condescending neo-colonialist attitudes were not. Seriously, if you're going to play along with that whole facade, then don't act like you're above their whole game. When you're there, financing that corrupt system; you're not whistleblowers, you're their temporary pawns; especially when you dress like hippie bums and speak/act with arrogance, providing fodder (like Dennis Rodman does) for their propagandic notions of WhiteMen™. 

Yet at the same time, I feel there's a certain value in engagement, if it's done right. The people of NK should see that they are not forgotten, not fighting for survival on their own: that the world is watching and encouraging. That's why I'd much rather spend my time/money (were I as generous away from the keyboard as I am in front of it) on efforts like these

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