Ah, "user-created content." Or, as Korean Konglish goes – "UCC." (I know it's supposed to be an "industry term," but it's only used in Korea.)
As I'll elaborate on in a more substantial, later post, I always says these days that "Korea is the country that should have invented YouTube."
I say this with all seriousness, but with some disappointment, because I continue to think it a shame that so many smart and technically capable people make use of the bleeding edge of technology (even ahead of more developed countries such as the US), but don't actually do much with it.
What I mean by this is the fact that Korea's had streaming audio and video, as well as "video-on-demand" before most Americans had even heard of DSL or cable modems, and well before anyone was actually getting their hands on them, even after they had.
In 1999, most Americans were using broadband at work (which is the only place most people could get it) to pass around funny, gross, or naughty videos around on email, in multi-megabyte files. You had some movie trailers being offered online (wow!) and even on the Internet before they hit the theaters, such as was the case with Star Wars: Episode I, a fact that actually made the news at the time ("StarWars.com had its web sites go down because of the trailer – wow!")
At that time, Koreans were moving into apartment buildings with 10 Mbps connections, which some small offices were sharing back in the US. There are a lot of governmental, organizational, and plain geographic factors behind this, but such are the facts – Korea had a particular structural advantage in getting most people into the country onto broadband.
So people missed an episode of the soap opera, they watched it later' the security guard in the booth outside the apartment building would watch the news as if it were television – on his computer. All the major networks web pages had links to top stories as well as the transcript (!) for each story in a scroll menu right next to or under it (and generally still do!).
Korea is also a networked society – not just in terms of technology, but in terms of people as well – such that most online activities, gaming, and use of media is incredibly interactive; many cite the near ubiquity of the PC "game rooms" and the fact that most Koreans played heavily networked games as the reason the major game consoles generally don't do as well as they do in Japan or the US.
You ever wonder why Korean names always topped the list of Starcraft players? Well, if you imagine a nation damn-near filled with large, smoky rooms of mostly men playing computer games on multiple-megabit (up and down) connections for hours – or days – at a time, you can imagine the Darwinian implications for developing master Starcraft players; Korea's had video game strategy channels on cable well before CNet.
So with the broadband backbone, a culture of social networked use of the Internet (note the ubiquitousness of Daum cafes and Cyworld), why didn't YouTube get invented here, the world capital of online video, where everyday Korean folks were streaming it before Americans had weaned themselves off of 56K modems?
I think there's a culture gap in there, to be more specific, a creativity gap combined with a high degree of risk-averse behavior. We'll start from there.
Frankly, there aren't a lot of people dropping out of grad school to write cool new software, along with a dearth of real venture or other options to capitalize such ideas (hence, less reward for trying or even succeeding with making something new and cool), as well as top-down structure to the Internet here that resembles the Korean conglomerates (재벌) such as Hyundai or Samsung, i.e. do everything, control everything.
That's why almost everything on the Korean Internet, from searching to news to shopping to internet cafes to blogging is pretty much done on Daum or Naver.com. And that's the kind of things that keeps things simple (and limited) for the Korean user, but generally leaves the development of new ideas, new modes of interacting, and new forms of media from developing.
Basically, Korea's got the best tech, but the least creativity on the Internet. It's a Darwinian paradise for the Internet, where great conditions and perfect weather and a lack of change keep everyone (especially the huge Internet conglomerates) happy, but doesn't provide much impetus for innovation, nor motive for mutation, on top of the other more cultural or social factors.
Perhaps it was the need for more efficient ways to deliver video that spurred the idea, in a less connected US market. Surely that was a factor. And so was the culture of innovation that is Silicon Valley, that characterizes one aspect of American entrepreneurship: bigger risks, bigger gains.
Hence, you get kids dropping out of grad school on what most people would consider whimsy to work on newfangled ideas in their garages, from Apple to Microsoft to Yahoo to Amazon to Napster to Wordpress to YouTube. And those are just the obvious ones.
In each case, it wasn't just a successful American company, but businesses that were models for a whole new form of media, or using that particular tool: from GUI operating systems to licensing software to inventing the a "search engine" for profit to revolutionizing the way people shop to getting organizing the illegal (and legal) exchange of MP3's to bringing blogging to open source, respective with the list in the previous paragraph.
In Korea's case, the technological infrastructure was there, but not the institutional and cultural support for innovating and taking risks on a large scale. People might open online shopping malls and engage in other commerce online, but generally for a fee that goes to pre-formed software and subscription fees to either a Naver or Daum e-commerce service; whether you make money or not, Daum gets paid – you're just a subscriber, in the big picture. Low risk, low gain.
The same is true for UCC, which is really a top-down attempt on the part of the big Internet conglomerates to squeeze more money out of the Korean consumer online, with one eye on YouTube, one firmly on the wallet. But somehow, I feel things aren't lining up.
You don't have the culture or community of a YouTube as having pre-existed the move to commercialize it in Korea, combined with the context in which most Korean consumers are confronted with the prospect of online stardom: do it for a monetary prize!
As I watch PandoraTV or MNCast, I am instantly turned off by the commercials that precede the video I want to watch, or the vacuum cleaner or some mini-gadget's price blinking in my face.
And then the videos – whoa. Most of them are pretty clearly commercials from big companies done in a "YouTube" style, or individuals who are obviously put up to do things; and even when you see real people doing something, it's often pretty derivative or they are obvious attempts to win a prize or gain fame in other venues, i.e. "if I get famous here, I might get on TV!"
If you are a YouTube watcher, you'll know that there are such things there as well, but there is also an avid community of people having video conversations, responding to and commenting on each others videos with their own videos, and all kinds of quirky stuff that comes perhaps from inflated egos, delusions of grandeur, or a desire to be a star; but you also get a lot of people who just do something with friends to be funny, or sending a political message, or even have stuff that you have no clue as to why someone even put it up.
As a Korean "UCC" watcher, I just find most of the stuff either way too obviously commercial or one-dimensional. And the recent popularity of someone like the "Beautiful Girl" who is making the rounds of the online press is actually somewhat sad – this is news?
Sadly, this stuff is only viewable with PC's (hello, why is a Flash-based viewer technology somehow made to be only viewable on PC's when YouTube can be seen on any platform and is on 98% of computers? How the Korean UCC companies managed that one, I don't know.)
And even more sad is the fact that her even doing this is somehow transgressive, somehow funny, or even at all interesting. So she dances around in pajamas lip-syncing (badly) to a song? Oooo-K.
I'm not beating her down – I'm actually pointing out that the fact her video is apparently news is what's sad. I know about the confluence of factors that prevent something like this, such as "What if her teacher's watching?!" or "what if someone pauses the video and puts her face on a porno actress?!" or "she may get cyberstalked" or "people are going to rip on her mercilessly" – the sad thing is that I know why this is news, because what this girl is doing is actually very risky behavior in a society that has been noted by foreign journalists for having a particularly conservative and vicious Internet culture. Clearly "Dog Poop Girl" was only the first of several vicious attacks that have left Koreans noticably more suspicious of each other when it comes to one's image or identity being given to strangers. As a photographer, it has become actually a dangerous thing to do to even work here because of this incident and the cultural aftermath of ones like it.
People forget that it wasn't the taking of the picture itself that was illegal, but the cyberstalking and revelation of her name, home address, citizen's number, and university, along with her major that was the problem, as well as highly immoral and illegal. Still, people just think that taking someone's picture is something akin to a crime.
Still, I don't have much hope for Korean "UCC." I think it's over-commercialized and way too fast, and it goes against the grain of how Koreans actually tend to feel comfortable using the medium. Videos are not cute face shots; they are harder to control, and harder to control how they are used, how your identity is exposed. There's an intimacy that makes Koreans right now extremely uncomfortable.
Who knows? Perhaps in a year, I might be wrong and things might change. But for right now, from where I sit, the fact that a girl in pajamas lip-syncing is news is sad news to me.