Friday, January 3, 2014

VICE "Motherboard" says Baidu top in Korea?

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 was fascinating, even if their condescending neo-colonialist attitudes were not. Seriously guys, 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
But anyway, back to the point. VICE's magazine feed "Motherboard" a few months ago ran a piece on the dominant websites in countries around the globe. It's a fairly interesting piece, with one glaring misstatement, easily spotted to anyone with the remotest 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
Since when does Baidu have any but a negligible presence in Korea? South Korea is dominated by its homegrown search portal Naver, a simple fact discovered by any web search. Some estimates place Naver's dominance at between 70~80%. This, in addition to the presumably obvious fact that the article's author, Meghan Neal, seems to have overlooked: Koreans speak Korean, not Chinese. Granted, international behemoths like Google provide localized language versions, but Baidu has only limited resources available in English (notably, a blog in English and a developer-only site), and as far as this author can tell, does not provide any Korean language option.

Now, the Motherboard article is essentially a puff piece, reprinting the results of a study apparently undertaken by Information Geographies at the Oxford Internet Institute.These guys (smarty pants Oxford scholars that they are) were awake enough to catch-on to this, and offer this caveat:
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.
I for one indeed suspect the data to be skewed. Unless Korea's population of 조선족 has somehow overwhelmed the internet savvy native Koreans, there's obviously something amiss. Perhaps data is being misinterpreted from undersea cable lines between China-Korea? I'm certainly no data network analyser, but as a longtime resident of Korea, I do know that Baidu's "dominance" of South Korea is a highly questionable claim.

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