Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top Naver searches in Korea, 2015

Naver has released their year-end review of top searches (2015 검색어 결산). As I did with Google's year-end Korea list and Facebok's year-end Korea list, I've translated them all for you, and included some brief commentary to catch you up. As always, commentary is based on the pooled knowledge of me, my friends, and my coworkers, so if you notice any errors, please let me know.

These come straight from Naver, so they're likely a more accurate picture of what Koreans were really searching this year than with the Google results. Of course, take that with a grain of salt, as Naver does have a bit of a history with editorially choosing topics to 'disappear'. Thus you'll notice no mentions here of anything of a political nature. But you're not here for politics. You're here for end-of-the-year listicle fun!

So just sit back, relax, and let's review Korea's 2015 together. Enjoy.

Top Naver Searches for 2015

(Note: If an entry appears on more than one list, I've just asterisked [*] any entries beyond the first one so as not to repeat the same information again and again.)

Source: Naver

2015 전년대비 상승 검색어 - Overall Hottest Searches 2015

Read more ...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Top Google searches in Korea, 2015

It's that time of year. Google Trends has released their top search lists for 2015, and the results are divided up by country and topic. You can see them in Korean here, but I've gone ahead and translated them for you with a tiny bit of personal commentary. Everything I've written has come from either my own knowledge or that of my friends and coworkers, so if you do notice any errors, please let me know. Also, remember that Naver dominates "real" Korean internet searches, so take these Google results with a grain of salt. See my other post for the corresponding Naver top searches for 2015 and also Facebook's top 10 in Korea for 2015.

Now sit back, relax, and let's review Korea's 2015 together. Enjoy.

Top Google Searches in Korea, 2015

Read more ...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Using Google in Korea? You're probably a criminal.

The Korea Times wants to warn you about all sorts of dangers that come from using Google as your default search engine. Clearly if you are Googling instead of Navering, you're up to no good.

Capitalization by me, to make it funnier.

...A 28-year-old suspect, surnamed Choi, who has been arrested for allegedly having recorded videos of more than 100 naked women in water park shower rooms, said she used a subminiature camera imported from Taiwan for the job [...] And this is just one of many options available online.
A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH can give anyone access to a slew of cameras that look like normal everyday items such as pens, car keys, lighters, watches and glasses among others.

Korea Times | Small cameras are watching you

...Song and Park said they traded meth online, using someone else’s phone numbers and bank accounts. They said they learned how to make the drug from foreign websites, over which Korean law enforcement has no control. In fact, such information can be easily found with A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH.

Korea Times | Men arrested for allegedly making and selling meth

...In the wrong hands, these records could offer one-stop shopping for identity theft. The two companies acknowledged that records for 343 people were accessed by unknown and potentially unauthorized individuals.
Finding the exposed information hardly required computer skill of a high order. Scripps found the records through A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH

Korea Times | Lifeline could be direct line to identity theft

...It is not just one or two websites. Potential buyers here can also purchase marijuana from overseas sellers directly and get it delivered with A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH for "no prescription marijuana" or "marijuana delivery to South Korea." Moreover, there is abundant information about how to grow marijuana on various websites. As some drugs are legal in some countries, such information is generated legally, but people spread it to places where it is not legal, such as Korea.

Korea Times | Is Korea becoming a pot haven?

...In fact, with A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH for "no prescription marijuana" or "marijuana delivery to South Korea," anyone can purchase them and get them delivered to with some risk. And that does not exclude minors.

Korea Times | Online overseas buys of illegal drugs on steep rise

Buying and selling firearms is illegal in Korea. Yet information on how to make them can be easily found online with A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH.

Korea Times | Homemade weapons just a click away

Even the Chosun has gotten in on it.

The hacker creates log-ons using the real names of about four or five people a month to post his banners, and the victims whose identities have been stolen may never know about it. These days, when anybody can find hundreds of resident registration numbers and names with A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH, it is this reporter, sadly, who is the loser in this online war.

Searching for Reason on the Internet - The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition)

Be careful out there folks. You never know what mischief a simple Google search can lead to.

Read more ...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Facebook's Korean Top 10 for 2015

Like last year, Facebook has posted their "Year in Review" lists and included lists for the Top 10 Most Popular Topics in Korea, and the Top 10 Most Popular Check-in Locations for Korea.

I've translated them into English, with a bit of explanation just in case you need it. And you may also be interested in this year's top Naver searches for Korea and top Google searches for Korea.

인기 토픽 - 대한민국
Most Popular Topics - Korea

  1. 빅뱅
    Big Bang
    The popular K-pop boy group released a new album this year, their third, after a 3 year absence from the K-pop scene, and embarked on an international tour.
  2. 메이웨더 vs 파퀴아오 경기
    The Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight
  3. 11월13일 파리 테러
    11/13 Paris terror attacks
  4. 남북관계 개선
    Improvement in Inter-Korean Relations
    Reunions for family members separated by the Korean War were held this year.
  5. 2015광주유니버시아드
    2015 Gwangju Universiade
    The 2015 Summer Universiade, an international sports competition for college athletes, was held in the Korean city of Gwangju
  6. 메르스
    Korea suffered an outbreak of the virus this year, which took a bite out of tourism
  7. 폴 메카트니 서울 콘서트
    Paul McCartney Seoul Concert
    The Beatles legend performed for the first time in Korea this year, after having had to cancel his planned tour the year prior
  8. 박근혜 대통령
    President Park Geun-hye
    Various national issues, including my personal favorite the textbook controversy, made it a rough year for the President, especially after year-end protests.  
  9. 아시안컵
    Asian Cup
    The 2015 Asian Cup, a regional international football match, was held in Australia and saw the Korean national team finish in second place
  10. 광복 70주년
    Gwangbokjeol (Liberation Day) 70th Anniversary 
    This year marked the 70th Anniversary of Korean liberation from Japanese colonial rule. 

인기 장소 - 대한민국
Most Popular Places - Korea

  1. 제주도
    Korea's resort island
  2. 에버랜드
    An amusement park just outside Seoul
  3. 전주 한옥마을
    Jeonju Hanok Village
    A historical recreation site featuring traditional Korean-style housing. Popular destination for families and school field trips. 
  4. 롯데월드
    Lotte World
    An amusement park inside Seoul
  5. 동대문디자인플라자
    Dongdaemun Design Plaza
    An interesting example of modern architecture
  6. 경복궁
    A royal palace in downtown Seoul and popular tourist attraction
  7. N서울타워
    N Seoul Tower
    That big ugly tower that looms over the Seoul skyline. Seriously I don't know why people go here. 
  8. 코엑스
    COEX Convention & Exhibition Center
    Major exhibitions, shopping, and entertainment center in Gangnam, and this year was featured as one potential ISIS target.
  9. 경포대해수욕장
    Gyeongpo Beach 
    A popular resort area beach on Korea's east coast
  10. 남이섬
    Nami Island, a popular romantic nature spot just outside Seoul, and filming location for many famous Korean dramas

Sadly, no mention of "I Seoul U" on any of these lists. You can also see my post on last year's Facebook Korea Top 10 here along with 2015's top Naver searches for Korea and top Google searches for Korea

Read more ...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chrome to Phone replacement for FoxtoPhone users - Sendroid

I was very annoyed this week to discover that Google has depreciated their useful little "Chrome to Phone" extension. This was a simple tool to send links from your desktop browser to your Android phone with one click. I personally prefer Firefox over Chrome, but there was no problem thanks to the useful FoxtoPhone add-on for Firefox that sent links from Firefox to your phone through the Chrome-to-Phone app. 


So I was annoyed to see a huge "[DEPRECIATED]" notice in the title of the "Chrome to Phone" Android app. It now runs this message in both the Android app's Play Store page and the corresponding Chrome extension's page

NOTICE: Chrome to Phone is no longer supported
Chrome to Phone was launched in 2010 to help bridge your desktop and phone experience by making it easy to send Web links to your phone. Over the years, Google’s core products have evolved to be more integrated across different form factors. As of today, Chrome to Phone is deprecated. The app will continue to work until Mar 31st 2016 after which it will no longer work.

Based on the comments section for the Chrome extension, I'm not the only annoyed person out there. Google is really becoming the new Apple. I abandoned Apple precisely for its tight-fisted walled-garden approach. Anyway, their recommendation for replacement (Chrome tab sync) are utterly useless for me, a Firefox user (though let's be honest, anything that steals even more marketshare is music to their ears). Firefox also has a tab-sync feature; the trouble is I prefer Firefox on desktop and Chrome on Android. Until now, the Chrome-to-Phone/FoxtoPhone combo meant they both played nice.


But hope is not all lost. In my search for a replacement, I came across a little Firefox Add-on called Sendroid that does basically the same thing, with a partner light-weight Android app. I've been trying it out, and here's a review of what I think:


  • Image auto-download. This is a cool feature Chrome2Phone was missing. Right-clicking images in Firefox now allows me to send that image, not just the link, to my Android (well, the link gets sent, but then automatically downloaded on my phone).
  • Android share menu. I would always receive links via Chrome2Phone on Android, but not necessary want to launch them (I mean obviously I was on that page seconds before on desktop). If I sent a link to my phone, it's usually because I intended to send it, either to Keep or to a KakaoTalk chat-room. Sendroid automatically gives me that ability without having to swipe away the notification and open the app (as I had to do with Chrome2Phone)
  • No log-in. Obviously FoxtoPhone needed access to my Google account to send via the Chrome2Phone protocol. Sendroid just uses a unique registration code your phone generates when first installing. Just copy the code to the Firefox extension once, and you're set.
  • Multiple receivers. This is a biggie. I usually used Fox2Phone to send links to my Android, which I'd then send to a friend on Kakao. Sendroid cuts out the middle-man: if he/she also has the light Sendroid app, I can send it right to them directly. 


  • No history. Chrome2Phone would save a list of all the links/text it had received. Good for links I sent, swiped away, then wanted to consult later. Sendroid has no such history.
  • No link launching. This is a bit annoying. Sometimes when I send a link, I do want to launch it in the Android browser. There seems no option for this: you share the link to an installed app. That's it. And neither mobile Chrome nor the stock browser are in the Android share menu. 
    EDIT: I was mistaken. When the notification shade is filled with lots of other items, the Sendroid notification contracts to a smaller size, like do many other notifications, which allows only for a single tap, which opens the Share menu. However if your notification shade is basically empty, it will expand to allow either sharing, copying the link, or launching the link. Here are the two states of the notification you receive:

For now until that March 31st deadline, I'll continue to use Fox2Phone alongside Sendroid. Who knows, maybe the FoxtoPhone developer will come-up with a workaround. I do find it a bit weird that Sendoid has so few users (12 reviews on Google Play, 100~500 installs, 37 users on Chrome, 62 users on Firefox as of today) but I will chalk it up to "Chrome to Phone" having been an official Google-branded product. I wouldn't have even thought of trying Sendroid either, until now anyway.

I do wonder how much longer the Blogger service will up and running. Every time I log-in to this blog, I hold my breath in fear of a giant "DEPRECIATED" across the screen. Google, I want to love you, I want to use your services, but you make it hard to love you. Don't send me into the arms of Wordpress 

Read more ...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Seoul gone from Google Maps? Nope.

Get ready to cringe, because this article basically Seouls you:

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Friday that it recently discovered Google’s online map service did not properly mark Seoul as South Korea’s capital, or the Dokdo islets at all, and asked the American tech company to resolve the issue.
Google Maps showed the capitals of neighboring countries including Beijing, Tokyo and Taipei clearly marked, but when zoomed out failed to show Seoul, according to the city government.
Even when the map was zoomed in, Pyongyang was marked as North Korea’s capital. However, in South Korea only Seongnam, a city outside Seoul in Gyeonggi, was marked.
[Korea Joongang Daily | Dokdo can’t be searched for on Google Maps]

South Korea shows rather blank, compared to its
neighbors, in what seems a reverse of this iconic image.

I like how the tone of this article implies that this was somehow a slight of Korea by a big bad American multinational. "...asked the American tech company to resolve the issue..." (!) Nothing could be farther from the truth. Like with most things, this non-controversy stems from a very boring cause:

지도를 업데이트하기 위해서는 타일링(Tiling)이라는 작업이 필요한데, 대한민국의 경우 국내법 준수를 위해 다른 나라와는 다른 별도의 작업이 필요합니다. [SPH | The reason Seoul is missing from Google Maps]

As the post above points out, it is Korea's own National Security Law that prevents Google from pushing updates to their map tiling in a timely fashion. The map tiles for Seoul were recently updated (thank God) but because of the archaic laws demanding mapping data be stored/processed within South Korea's borders, the update was delayed while local partners took care of it. 

Lest you get uselessly upset about this sort of thing (like I do), you're not alone. Koreans themselves find it annoying that even North Korea receives better coverage on Google. 

So if you too find navigating in Korea difficult thanks to the pretty terrible quality of Google Maps, don't blame the big bad G. Blame those in government who still think its 1952 and that somehow keeping it illegal to export maps will make Seoul safer. For crying out loud, I've been in apartment complexes that directly overlook military installations. I could snap a few photos with my phone, even through binoculars if so inclined, and Snapchat them to Kim Jong-Un, but I can't get simple driving directions. 

Oh, and by the way, I love how that Joongang piece complains:

Right now if you search for Korea’s easternmost Dokdo islets on Google Maps, the map will take you to the Dokdo Museum on the nearby Ulleung Island.
Only by searching with the Franco-English name for the islets, Liancourt Rocks, can the Dokdo islets in the East Sea be located on Google’s online map service.
The same results are found when searching in both English and Korean on the online map service.

Well go ahead and search "Dokdo" on Naver, and what do you get? The famed islets? Only if you scroll down in the auto-fill list. Go ahead and just do a quick-and-dirty "Dokdo" search on Naver. Please do. And what do you get? Korea's national pride? No. Your local branch of Dokdo Tuna restaurants. 

"Dokdo" search on Naver returns 독도참치

But please, tell me more about how Google is slighting Korea. Especially with disparaging comments like:
“Korea is one of the most important markets, as it is in (the)top five nations with the largest number of developers for Google Play,” Jamie Rosenberg, vice president of Google’s digital content, said at its first Google Play event for partners and media in Seoul. [Korea Herald]

Outright shocking. We need to ask the American tech company to cease this outrageous rhetoric. And now that all this righteous anger has given me an appetite, I strangely have a sudden craving for tuna...

Read more ...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

KT and Expedia partner for unlimited data roaming

It looks like KT is offering customers traveling abroad a free unlimited data roaming promotion. That's pretty huge, since I can still remember visiting home and having to choose my data-dates carefully, as it was 10k won each day for such service. A quick check shows that that is still basically the case. But before you get too excited, there are of course some conditions:
  1. You have to be staying in a hotel charging over $100/night (not one of these)
  2. You have to book that hotel stay via the promotional Expedia site
If that's you, read on to see how to take advantage of this promotion. 

How to get KT's Unlimited Data Roaming

Olleh unlimited free roaming data promotion

Step 1: Get the Coupon Code

You need to visit the special promotional page on the Expedia site. There, you just need to sign-up for the promotion with your name and email address. 
The "official" link is below, but it's all in Korean.
Luckily, you can just change the URL to get it all in English.

Step 2: Reserve your Hotel

Make your hotel reservation. Be sure to use the special link below.
NB: If Expedia ever starts displaying in Korean you can change it to English by adding &langid=1033 to the end of the URL. This is safer than clicking "English" as that may remove the KT-promotion-specific URL coding. 

Step 3: Enter the coupon code

Now when it's time to pay for the reservation, be sure to enter the coupon code you got in Step 1 into the billing information. After that double-check your itinerary, which should now say "Data Roaming" or "데이터로밍" or "Data Unlimited Free", etc. 

Step 4: Show your itinerary at the Airport Data Roaming Center

When you show up at the airport for your flight, stop by the KT Data Roaming center and show them your itinerary. They should do the rest. 

I'm not a translation expert or anything, but it says 예를 들어, 5박을 하면 5일, 10박을 하면 10일 데이터로밍 무제한 혜택이 제공되는 것이죠, so it looks like this is valid for your entire hotel stay. In other words, stay 8 days and get 8 days of unlimited data, for example. 

Also beware that some hotels are excluded from the promotion. 

I haven't tried it yet of course, even though I'm a KT customer, mainly because the last time I left Korea was well over a year ago now. I'm due for a nice tropical vacation. Maybe if  when that time comes, I can use this offer to sit on a nice beach, sip a nice cocktail, and continue building my Clan like I do on the toilet at work. 


Read more ...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Korea is #1 in Dropbox syncing

It turns out Korea ranks #1 when it comes to Dropbox users who "use their Dropbox accounts on at least two devices."

 Here are the top syncer schools globally:
  1. Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (South Korea)
  2. Universitat de les Illes Balears (Spain)
  3. Seoul National University (South Korea)
  4. Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (Netherlands)
  5. Yonsei University (South Korea)
The top 20 list for syncer schools is dominated by Korean and Spanish universities: Six of the top 20 are in South Korea. [Dropbox Blog | Collaborators and syncers]

I'm a bit surprised by this. I personally haven't really noticed much personal cloud-based file-sharing going on. Now online webhards are a different story, but that's not exactly file-syncing, just TV show and movie downloading. As for personal cloud-based storage, even though the tech scene here is pretty advanced, it's just not something I've noticed a lot of. I think Dropbox themselves noticed this, as you can see in this recent interview. I'm cutting a lot out of the ansewer, but here's the part I found interesting (my highlighting):

Many Koreans tend to use N-Drive and cloud services provided by their telecom carriers like SK Telecom, KT and LG U+, as most of them connect to cloud service via smartphones. In this sense, Korea seems like a somewhat closed market. [...]
We are surprised that Korea is so advanced in a lot of ways, but we found that people aren’t using any of these cloud services and it’s great. We have an opportunity to make things better for a lot of people and it’s a big open market for us.
[Korea Joongang Daily | Dropping in to Korea's cloud storage scene]

He can say that again. The telecoms offer some outrageous amounts of free online storage, but I have yet to interact with anyone, either professionally or personally, who uses their telecom cloud storage at all, or some of the similar services. Remember, I'm just talking me here. Don't take it as statistical fact. 

Now I have sent/received plenty of large-sized files via Naver N-Drive. I would guess N-Drive syncing would be more popular. Anyway, it seems students at some of the best Korean schools (KAIST and SKY!) are fans of Dropbox and its multi-device convenience. I'd be real curious to know what kind of files they're syncing, and whether it's actual academic work, or just movies and TV shows. I can imagine some kid on the subway Wi-Fi streaming Naruto, which he grabbed off a web-hard from his desktop, to his Note via Dropbox. 

Then again, as I talked about before, it was also KAIST that came in #1 for nighttime Dropbox syncing. Now, I don't know what kind of files they are streaming so heavily and so late at night. I'll leave that up to you. Bottom line: KAIST students really seem to like Dropbox. 

Or, here's another possibility: It could just be that KAIST/SKY students are wealthy enough to own multiple mobile devices, and even though Dropbox itself might be more popular outside Korea than inside, non-Koreans may simply run Dropbox on a single computer as cloud-backup (like my parents do) or just sync between home and work computers.

So overall, if I had to make a guess, I'd say Koreans' tendency to have multiple mobile devices and ubiquitous high-speed wireless internet help it to beef up the numbers in terms of data streaming/syncing that not many other countries could match. Dropbox use might just be a small piece of a larger file-streaming pie. 

Read more ...

Friday, November 6, 2015

MBC's 360° VR video "Shine or Go Crazy" (빛나거나 미치거나 VR), and more 360 VR fun!

Here's a pretty cool follow-up on Korean 360° VR videos. A few months back I had read over on the K-Bizwire that MBC was producing a virtual reality Korean historical drama.
SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Korea Bizwire) – MBC has announced that it will produce an action drama based on virtual reality (VR), and reveal it on September 5.
The drama ‘Shine or go Crazy VR’ is an offshoot of ‘Shine or go Crazy’, which was aired early this year, starring Jang Hyuk and Oh Yeon-seo. The story will be the same, but the program was shot in a way that will make viewers feel like they are actually in the drama. [Korea Bizwire | MBC Produces Virtual Action Drama]

Still shot from the 3-D 360° VR version of "Shine or Go Crazy"

I don't know anything about this "Shine or Go Crazy" and I'm not a big fan of Korean historical dramas, or Korean dramas at all, but I'm a sucker for 360° videos, and as far as I can tell nobody has written up anything in English about it since that Bizwire piece, so I'll give it a look here. I just so happen to have a Google Cardboard viewer which you can get on G-market for under 5,000원 for a cheap one.

MBC has their own Android app [Google Play | MBC VR] that features some of their VR content, but I don't recommend downloading it. It says that it's compatible with both Google Cardboard and some knockoff called PAPER360 but honestly I couldn't get the focus right with my Cardboard. Additionally, it requires you to download the viewing file first, and the full 7-minute clip of "Shine or Go Crazy" is over 400MB. Don't bother with the app then, when all of the content currently in the app is available on MBC's VR YouTube channel for convenient streaming.

I'll embed the full 7-minute clip below, or you can click here.

Note that there is about a minute of introduction, during which your "VR" experience will turn into presentation mode, where you'll feel like you're just looking at a screen in a movie theater because turning your head will only show blackness around the screen. Just let it play, and the full 360° immersion will start. The nice thing of having it stream from YouTube is that even without an actual Cardboard viewer, you can still get the 360° experience by moving the phone around.

(Spoiler alert) The "story" is basically just some action fighting scenes, including some guy getting thrown into a river then some ghost princess fighting two men. Sorry, I don't care enough about the plot to research it. I found myself looking around at the old Korean architecture to my top-left while the martial arts were going on to the right. At the end there's an explosion and someone comes and stabs you. (End spoilers*) Again, the interesting thing here is probably not the plot, but the lovely immersive scenery.

[*Did I really just put a spoiler warning on this? On this? I always told myself that when I start taking this blog too seriously I'd shut it down. Cool off, bud. You're getting dangerously close to adding "kimchi" or "Seoul/soul" to the title. ]

If I've got my facts straight, it looks like the company that produced this is a start-up called "mooovr" (not "moo V.R." but "moo-ver/mover/무버"... somebody needs to do something about these names), and here's a shot from their Instagram of them filming these scenes:

Mooovr has a variety of other 360 VR videos over on their YouTube channel which all worked fine in my Cardboard, including one of the roller-coaster at Seoul Grand Park and a, um, eye-catching VR performance of K-pop girl group Stellar's "Marionette", which is pretty hot even in 2-D. You know, if you go for the whole girls-dancing-in-underwear thing, which you know you do.

And speaking of which, you know what that means. As I wrote about before, Bambino, the group now famous for that viral gyrating no-panty GIF, was first to this brave new world*Stellar now joins Bambino as the two K-pop world leaders in sexy 360° VR entertainment. You know what the next step is, guys. You always thought it would be Japan that brings us immersive VR pornography, but I'm putting my faith in Team Korea here. President Park has always said that the creative economy will be Korea's biggest growth engine. You can bet that 3-D, 360° VR "entertainment" like this that "grows" my "engine" will be the real economic bonanza. Don't believe me? Check out the 2:12 mark in this video. Or better yet, check out the entire concept of this video. I'm telling you, it's just around the corner.

[*Technically the girl group Laysha, who just made headlines yesterday for a particularly raunchy performance, had a VR video released earlier this year, but we have to draw the line somewhere. A few girls dancing in VR does not a K-pop act make. So for me, although the line is thin, I'd say Laysha are still in "amateur" territory while groups like Stellar and Bambino are more well-known, bearing in mind that "well known" is a relative term. Now if you want legitimately well-known, I'd have to say the boy-group Infinite, releasing their own 360 video back in July, which was even featured by Google.]
So keep an eye on these YouTube channels, and keep your Cardboard VR viewer handy. Last time I looked at this topic, there were no more than 5~10 Korea-related VR videos on the 'Tube. Take a look now and you'll see how explosive this niche has become.

YouTube Channel Review:

YouTube - MBC VR
YouTube - mooovr
YouTube - 베레스트(Verest) 360 VR

Happy 360 VR viewing, and remember to keep both hands firmly on the 3-D viewer headset, wink wink.
Read more ...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Korean "Dirt Spoon" Bingo

By now, you've probably read an article somewhere about a silly viral meme called "Dirt Spoon Bingo" (흙수저 빙고) which is meant to be a kind of satire on the poor economic condition faced by young Koreans today. It's a game to determine if you were born with, not a silver spoon, but a dirt spoon in your mouth. The Bingo card spaces are filled with situations most economically-disenfranchised young people would be familiar with. Check off a line of 5 and BINGO! Congratulations, you're poor!

흙수저 빙고
One common version of Dirt Spoon Bingo being passed around.
Cleaner-viewing versions can be found here.

It's part of a larger social issue on what many consider to be the dire economic condition facing young unemployed Koreans today. A nice English-translated introduction was on Korea Bang the other day [Korea Bang | Korea’s ‘Give Up’ Generation], and it got attention on the KT [Korea Times | Young vent frustration with 'Hell Joseon']. I thought it was pretty amusing, and figured I'd try my hand at translating it into English, so readers of this blog can play along too.

Please note that for some of these I tried to translate more the meaning or feeling behind them, rather than being literally exact. For example, as Westerners don't use jeonse I simply left it as "pay monthly rent". But I think overall these pretty accurately reflect the mood of the game.

영어 흙수저 빙고 English Dirt Spoon Bingo
English "Dirt Spoon Bingo"

Actually, while making this, I discovered that someone had basically beaten me to it. Reddit user u/monkeyshow has done a truly outstanding job not only translating the squares literally but offering some cultural background explanation. It's really a great analysis and deserves to be featured in more places than just a Reddit comments thread. I nearly missed it myself. I'll reprint it here.
[–]monkeyshow 12 points 2 days ago
i'm a noob at reddit formatting but here goes. starting from the top left and going down:

  1. 'has a plastic tub to collect water in the bathroom' (old apartments often have problems in plumbing so when they do maintenance and the water shuts off, people collect water beforehand)
  2. 'no bathtub in the house' (small houses often don't have tubs)
  3. 'there's a lot of frozen items in the freezer' (assuming you buy in bulk to save money)
  4. 'divorced parents'
  5. 'the house your parents live in is a monthly rent or the deposit money was less than 1 hundred million won' (전세 is a weird korean housing contract where you pay a lump deposit up front and live without paying rent for 2 years)
  6. 'lives in "연립주택"' (연립주택 or 빌라 refers to low cost houses, usually 2-4 stories tall, with red bricks. High rise apartments are preferred over these cheaper homes)
  7. 'floor panels in the house are damaged'
  8. 'parents nag you often to not waste food'
  9. 'wear only 1 or 2 pairs of shoes for the entire year'
  10. 'spend lots of time online looking for items with the lowest cost'
  11. 'never received new year's pocket money that was more than 100,000 won' (it is customary during lunar new years for older folks to hand out pocket money to children. usually high school kids would get anywhere from 50,000 - 500,000 won)
  12. 'parents do not have a hobby' (assuming they're too busy working to enjoy leisure)
  13. 'household debt'
  14. 'has vinyl tablecloths underneath the glass' (some dinner tables are topped with glass, but have a layer of tablecloth underneath for aesthetic purposes. clear plastic implies no nonsense, no spending money on beauty-type of mentality)
  15. 'no family members have a car or has a car that's more than 7 years old'
  16. 'has had a part time job in the past' (the word 알바 comes from the German word 'arbeit' which i think means work?)
  17. 'parents obsess over their children's education' (based on the korean dream of going to a SKY university that will automatically open doors to a better life)
  18. 'meat is often cooked with lots of water' (implying grilled meat is consumed too fast, so you stretch it out by creating stews and soups, etc)
  19. 'no bidet in the house' (a previous comment said this seemed like a first world problem, but in my humble opinion, it seems more like it's based on what you consider luxurious or 'first-world'. Bidets usually come preinstalled in most modern homes in Korea, so a house without a bidet would be comparable to say.. a house without air conditioning or a house that's referred to as a "fixer upper")
  20. 'lots of clothing in the closet from a previous fashion trend'
  21. 'parents do not receive regular check ups'
  22. 'the TV is a CRT or a flat panel under 30 inches'
  23. 'have done business over 중고나라' (중고나라 is like craigslist where people buy and sell second hand items)
  24. 'don't have an air conditioner or even if you do, don't use it often in the summer' (keeping the AC on during the summer can rack up quite the electric bill, especially during the summer. a lesson i learned the hard way..)
  25. 'fungal growth in the house' ('mold' would be the more common term, i suppose)

This great info comes from a larger discussion over on Reddit, where you can also find an interesting sort of rebuttal to the whole "dirt spoon" generation idea. Overall, Reddit's been offering up some pretty interesting reads lately.

I'm not going to comment much on how well scoring a Bingo in this game proves your poor status. One the one hand, you can't help but feel the burn when reading stats like this:
The top 10 percent of the richest South Koreans, in terms of assets, own 66 percent of total wealth, a study shows. The 50 percent on the lower end, on the other hand, own a mere 2 percent. [Korea Times]
But then again I certainly do notice a kind of, not entitlement, but just a kind of looking-down on the idea of thrift, especially when appearances are at stake. Gotta have a good-looking phone/suit/car, anything people see, even if it means eating ramen twice a day (privately). The worst attitude, I think, is the idea that spending beyond your means now is going to somehow ensure your prosperity in the future. I had a chat just last week with a friend who just left his job to open his own business. His first step? Buying a brand new high-end car. The guy is 27 years old, recently married. I know his family history and know for a fact he cannot currently afford the payments on that car. But he assures me that he "needs" this car to be taken seriously as a businessman, and that projecting this image of success will help him in the long-run.

Hey, I get his logic, I really do. And it's not like this is a uniquely Korean problem. I don't know. Maybe I'm getting old. But I can check-off most of those "dirt spoon bingo" spaces, and I turned out not so bad. In fact, my parents used to pride themselves on the thrift and frugal tactics implied in this game. IMHO, these are lessons the current generation's grandparents already learned. Maybe it's time to teach the younger ones.

Apologies for this becoming just a Reddit copy-paste-link post. I had meant to just post that dumb English version of the Dirt Bingo thing and be done.

And finally, in case you haven't got your fill of Bingo mania, check out Expat Bingo to see how many stereotypical foreigner experiences you can claim. I definitely have been guilty of a few.

Happy playing.

Read more ...

Friday, October 23, 2015

Naver Maps updates North Korea imagery (but Google's is better)

In a recent blog post cataloging their latest updates to their map imagery, Naver Maps included a bit about a big update to their North Korean satellite imagery, which was previously only available up the regional-level of zoom. Now, thanks to imagery released by the Korean National Geographic Information Institute (국토지리정보원), you can zoom to a level of resolving individual streets.

From their post:

Naver Maps imagery from before this update, which was unavailable beyond zoom level 5.

Naver maps imagery after the update, reaching current maximum of level 12. 

Naturally I was curious, and went to see how this new imagery compares with what other major portals offer. As the highlight in the Naver Maps blog post seems to be Yanggakdo, a small island in the Taedong River that runs through Pyongyang, that seemed like a good spot for comparison. Let's take a look, after the jump...

Read more ...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

KAIST students biggest night owls, says Dropbox

So Dropbox apparently crunched the numbers to see which university's students are working on their Dropbox documents latest at night. The Asian winner? KAIST. Relevant parts:

By looking at all universities with students using Dropbox late on weeknights — between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am in the school’s local time — we identified the top 5 universities in every region getting work done in the wee hours.
 - Asia: Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (South Korea)
[University Insights: Night owls and social butterflies | | Dropbox Blog]

Who knows if they're really doing work or not, of course. Tip for KAIST students: if you're not already, you really ought to be saving your "19 movies" in Dropbox and sharing with friends via shared folders. Good way to keep Hyeong's* eyes a bit more in the dark.

In my experience, Dropbox does seem fairly recognized and utilized here, more so than other foreign services that are more common back home. I see a good amount of Naver N-Drive utilization also, though for me 9 times out of 10 it's in the form of extra-large e-mail attachments being automatically stored for 30 days on N-Drive, sort of how G-mail will store your e-mail attachment on Google Drive if it's too large for G-mail's defaults. Of course, even with all the high speed internet access here, just passing around USB memory sticks is still surprisingly popular. Sometimes simplicity is best.

Also see my post about KAIST, and Korea generally, being #1 in terms of Dropbox syncing.

* I say we start using "Hyeong" (형) to refer to the NIS, aka Korea's "Big Brother." Get it? Sorry, it's late. 
Read more ...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

KakaoTaxi experience, revisited

This post includes some commentary on the KakaoTaxi service. These are just my personal opinions. I have no interest or stake in KakaoTaxi, and bear in mind I am no expert on taxi services or logistics or the Korean app ecosphere. I am just a man in Korea who occasionally uses KakaoTaxi. So please take all my thoughts with a grain of salt. They reflect my personality and are not an objective analysis of the service.

Tonight I came across a nice post over on Kojects, where Nikola talks about his experiences with KakaoTaxi, and gives a good description and opinion about the service, complete with lots of app screenshots. Readers know I'm a big fan of screenshots. The post gives you a good idea about how to use the service. Be sure to check it out. Anyway, the part that really got me was this:
The taxi driver in Ulsan said that he doesn’t see the destination when he receives the call. After he picked me up, then his phone showed him the destination [KakaoTaxi Revolutionizing Korea's Taxi Service - Kojects]

That is just crazy. And it also explains a lot about the complaints I have with the service.

You may remember my review of the KakaoTaxi service from a few months ago. After reading the Kojects piece, I felt like sharing my feelings about the service now, after having used it more. I don't take taxis every day, but I'd guess maybe once or twice a week. I actually prefer just going out to the street and hailing one the old fashioned way, manually. But if I'm in an unfamiliar or sparsely populated area, I'll whip out my trusty KakaoTaxi app. All in all, I've used the service maybe 20~30 times now. Here's what I've noticed.

Regarding the whole driver-doesn't-see-destination-until-fare-is-picked-up thing, I'm going to assume it is a well-intentioned move by Kakao to prevent discrimination from drivers. If they know beforehand where you want to go, and that destination is (1) too short a distance, or (2) not in an area they want to end up at, then sure, they'd just ignore the request and leave you high and dry. I've experienced that plenty of times with normal taxi use. At least if they've already driven out to you when you hail via KakaoTaxi, theoretically they'd be less likely to say "nah" if your destination turns out to be unfavorable to them.

Of course the flip side of this is that, when you hail a taxi, of course your current location is sent to the driver. Even after you hit submit to make the hail, it actually makes you reconfirm that the location is right. Of course sending your location to the driver is necessary. No one can argue with that. The problem though is that they don't have to respond. I've had a few experiences now where it brings up that screen saying "1... 2... 3... x number of drivers is in your area" but then the service shuts down, saying no cabs are available, please try again. In other words, the hail was successfully sent to x-number of nearby cabs, but none accepted. Admittedly, those times have been when I'm a fair ways out of town. But still, for a taxi hailing service, you expect it to be able to hail a taxi for you. Now I'm not faulting Kakao directly with this. The same happened even with the Call-taxi (콜택시) services before. Drivers just plain don't want to go too far out of their way. Luckily, there was only one time I can recall when no taxi would come and I had to wait 30 minutes for a bus. But several times I had to try hailing 3~4 times, spacing out the attempts by 5 minutes or so. Not ideal.

Since I'm in bitching mode apparently, here's another thing that grinds my gears. For some reason, 60% of the time I hail a taxi, the driver calls me on the phone just before he arrives. Again, I get the point of this. He's just trying to confirm which schmuck on the street I am. But that gets real old, real fast, when you combine a hot-tempered, bbali-bbali middle-aged driver with a honky with less than ideal Korean speaking ability. Sometimes I answer the phone and just get an immediate "WHERE AT?" blasted into my ear drums. Then I get the back-and-forth experience of trying to describe what's around me. Bear in mind, I made certain my exact GPS location was already sent to him. Look, I've got no problem with his phone call in a busy area, lots of people trying to grab cabs, and a certain GPS spot could be in a dense urban core. I get it. But this stuff happens even out by the golf course near the airport. Not a car in sight but for the cab on the road, and me and my partner near the course entrance. And the guy calls me wanting to know where we are. I can see his taxi about 20 meters away, no joke I see him on the phone. He is not looking around. He's looking straight forward driving slowly. I have to walk into his line of sight and point to my phone, and his taxi, a couple times, before he realizes I'm not some hobo, I'm his fare.

Am I annoyingly picky? Yeah maybe. But again, I think this is one of the limitations of the KakaoTaxi service. Ideally I'd like to see it better integrated with the drivers themselves. As I wrote before, KakaoTaxi is great as a middleman, but it doesn't go that last mile, and that's usually where customer service is weakest.

Other things, pretty much the same. Some drivers can't figure out how to use GPS navigation, or apparently how to use the KakaoTaxi Driver app, and want me to explain to them where to go. Or argue with me about how to get there. Or, no joke, try to convince me out of going to my destination. Look I'm a friendly guy, usually, but after a day at work, sometimes I like the faceless automation of an app like KakaoTaxi. I don't want "the human touch" in my transportation options. I like the subway because nobody talks. I can relax, read great blogs like Kojects or 10원 Tips, and rest.

KakaoTaxi is a great app, super simple, and saved my ass a few times. Like I said before, the problem, if I can call it a problem, is that it relies on the same old drivers, so once you actually step foot inside that cab, you're at the mercy of that driver. There's no Kakao to come rescue you. You can't just press his face like a phone screen and double-tap on where you want to go. You can't mute him, or his radio, or keep his eyes from wandering over to the girl you're with. But until KakaoBots* start driving cabs, I'll just put up with it**.

* No joke, I had a discussion with some coworkers about robots doing work like cleaning offices, driving cabs, collecting trash, and one guy goes "yeah but how will we handle sexual assault cases?" 
Robots sexual assaults. As if this crazy world didn't have enough to fear already. 

** I'm not anti-driver by the way. Most do their job respectably well. I think it's more an issue of me using taxis at weird times or weird locations, so perhaps I end up getting the more desperate ones, because the discomforting trips tend to happen less often by the old hand-wave hailing method. Then again, it's possible a driver who stops on the street for me is already predisposed to feeling cheery enough to pick up a foreigner. On KakaoTaxi, he wouldn't know, just as on the internet in general, no one knows you're a dog
Read more ...

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My review of Swing Browser (스윙 브라우저)

Today I'll take a look at a Korean home-grown web browser that I had seen a coworker using, called Swing Browser. Swing Browser (스윙 브라우저) is basically Google Chrome but surgically altered to support IE-only plug-ins. Why might one need such a browser, and is it worth using? Let's take a look.

Swing Browser [VentureSquare]

Part 1: Search & New Tabs
Part 2: Browser Settings & Extensions
Part 3: Swing Extensions & Tools
Part 4: Banking & IE Mode
Final Thoughts


First, some background. Korea's internet banking security regulations often lead to a weird state where many use Chrome for their average web browsing, but open up Internet Explorer when it's time to make online purchases or use online banking services. A trick I've seen many coworkers do is to add all their online shopping items to their cart, then either log-in over on IE or switch to their smartphone to complete the purchase. Or, of course, many still just use IE as their one-and-only browser. Why switch when you know you'll need to come back to IE anyway? It isn't just banking either: many older sites, especially governmental sites, depend on older script-rendering engines to function. If you ever tried making a reservation on some government websites, or downloading files from some "cafe" sites, you'll know what I mean. Click all you want, friend; that link isn't going to click. Come back in IE and try again.

It it isn't ideal, and as anyone who lives here dealing with the hassles of the older Active-X plug-ins and their newer security software executables will tell you, it's also fairly unreliable. The need to uninstall and reinstall these small security apps (anti-keyloggers, site-specific firewalls, etc.) comes up often. Perhaps the most disconcerting part is that these mini-apps require elevated Administrator permissions. As a result, IE is still king.

Market share of web browsers in Korea, July 2015.
Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Browser Market Share

Into this ecosystem comes Swing Browser. In theory it's an interesting concept: a custom-build from the Chromium open-source leads to a Chrome-like browser with better speed and rendering than IE, but that is also compatible with IE-specific security programs such as those banks and online transaction sites require. No more switching browsers! Let Swing Browser automatically switch "modes" for you when necessary. I have to admit, the idea sounded great, and led me to install it myself on an older Windows 7 machine, and give it a go.

To be fair, it does perform its stated duty. But after testing it out for a few days, I decided I'm better off doing my main browsing in Chrome, and switching to IE when necessary. Anyway, let's take a tour of what Swing Browser has to offer.

Swing Browser in action

Part 1: Search & New Tabs

Screenshot 1: new page, WebKit rendering engine
Here it is: Swing Browser. You'll immediately notice that it looks just like Chrome, and if you're already a Chrome user, you'll have no difficulty navigating around. You'll also notice that, yes, the browser is essentially entirely in English. A few settings or tooltips seem to have been, how can I say, perhaps translated by a non-native speaker, but overall I never felt unsure of how to use it. Don't let the language issue put you off. Some text is in Korean, but overall this is an entirely comfortable browser for English speakers.

Note also here one of the main features: that "SPEED" icon in the URL bar. It glows purple as you can see above, when the browser is using the WebKit rendering engine. In other words, it's in Chrome-mode, and webpages will render exactly as they should in real Google Chrome. 

You'll also see several extensions in the upper toolbar that come pre-installed. I consider these bloatware, and totally unnecessary for the average non-Korean user. We'll get to those in a minute.

Screenshot 2: omnibar search results
Being vain, the first action I took was to search for myself "10wontips" in the URL/Omnibar. Rather than utilizing Google, the default search engine is "Zum", another product of ESTsoft, makers of the ALTools suite of utilities. You may know them as the makers of ALZip, that bulky version of 7zip, and ALyak (알약) (sorry, don't know how they choose to Anglicize this one), the antivirus on your girlfriend's computer that looks like an egg holding a pill.

I hope you're a fan of Zum and ALtools, because the integration runs deep here. Where Chrome is clearly immersed in the Google ecosystem, Swing Browser wants you immersed in their world.

Screenshot 3: Swing Browser login box
For example, you cannot "login" your Chrome Swing Browser session into your Google account like you can on regular Chrome. Trying to log-in will bring up this request to sign-in with your ALTools or Zum account. It seems to sync your history/passwords/extensions all the same, but of course that data is stored in their cloud, so unless you're using Swing Browser on multiple devices, or the ALToolbar on your other browsers, this is not going to be real helpful.

This is also an example of needing to read some Korean. You can actually log-in to Zum using your Facebook account, which simplifies the process a lot, but if you want to create an account normally you'll need to join in Korean.

Screenshot 4: new tab page
Once you've started using the browser, your new tab page will look something like this, with "recommended sites" up top and your most frequently visited sites below. 

One interesting thing to note here, though I took this screenshot beforehand and now don't have a photo to show you of it, is that certain sites seem to get promoted to those top "recommended sites" bars. For example, you can see that right now the 은행 ("bank") bar is grayed-out. But after visiting KEB-Hana bank's website, that bank's link and favicon started occupying that space. That's actually a nice touch. I find that actually typing URLs is incredibly rare in Korea. A lot of people I know just search Naver for the name of the bank, then click the first search result. This may seem silly, and I've seen Koreans getting flack for it online, but I don't think it's a bad practice, because:
  1. It's always possible you could make a typo and end up at a cleverly designed phishing site. Less likely Naver/Google/etc. would return the wrong listing.
  2. It's only recently that non-Latin characters could be used in URLs, and in fact is still not very common. Remembering a precise set of foreign characters for each site is more difficult than just Googling the name. Go ahead, try to remember (and type!) http://правительство.рф. I'll wait. 

So overall, I think auto-filling those new-tab buttons with the user's preferred banking site is a smart move, consumer-wise. It also does things like auto-correct some typos.  

Part 2: Browser Settings & Extensions

Screenshot 5: browser option menu
Here's the menu you get when clicking the gear icon. Pretty standard Chrome-like menu. Maybe the only difference is that "Always use speed mode" option, which forces WebKit rendering on each page. But that would make no difference from using normal Chrome. Hey, whatever floats your boat. 

Screenshot 6: browser settings
Getting into the settings menu. You can see that you can login to your ALTools account here. I didn't try this, but based on the wording, I'm guessing that any passwords you save in Swing Browser might also be synched up to the ALToolbar via the Auto Login feature, which you may have noticed is a preinstalled extension on Swing Browser. That could potentially be handy if, for example, you were using the ALToolbar on your Internet Explorer browser, so all your saved IE passwords would automatically be available in Swing Browser, and updates in either location would sync through. Not too shabby. If you're not immersed in the Google ecosystem, this could be a viable resource, especially if, God forbid, you would still from time to time need to move back to IE. 

I often hear complaints of how un-tech-savvy Korean internet users are, but when you dive into features like this, you start to see that yes, it's entirely possible to live fairly productively online, even without Google, and even under some outmoded government regulations. 

Screenshot 7: advanced settings
The advanced settings. Note that if you haven't logged in to ALpass, Swing will still save your passwords locally. Everything else seems pretty standard.

Screenshot 8: browser extensions
Here's where the fun starts. Hold on to your butts. Swing Browser can make use of normal Chrome Store extensions, but can also run extensions from its own special extension store. 

That link in the top-right, "Get more Swing extensions" leads to which in turn redirects to the Swing browser extension store at  Note that if you visit their extension store on another browser, say, authentic Google Chrome, you'll see this message:
Basically alerting you that you cannot use these extensions on your current browser, and encouraging you to download Swing. 

Note that all of the extensions you see above came pre-installed. I'll talk more about these extensions in detail below in Part 3. 

Screenshot 9: browser "About" page
About the browser. 

Part 3: Swing Extensions & Tools

As I said, the Swing browser can make use of both Google Chrome Web Store extensions and extensions from its own homepage. There's not a huge amount available, but I'll write out a quick description here of what's available as of time of writing. All of these can be browsed at the Swing Extension Store.

Screenshot 10: webpage sharing tool "QuickSend"
QuickSend is a simple no-login-needed tool to share page items, powered by Send-Anywhere.

Screenshot 11: Scheduled surfing tool
The Scheduled Surfing Tool is basically a scheduled auto-site-opener. You pre-set the websites you want the browser to open (or to remind you to open) at dates/times you specified and it does the rest. Definitely one of the Korea-peculiar extensions, useful for things like semi-automating your Chuseok train ticket purchase, your Maroon 5 concert tickets purchase, or your online university course registration period. Basically anything online that can only be done in a very specific/limited time window, and is guaranteed to sell-out or fill-up almost immediately. You do not want to forget that.

Screenshot 12: Server time tool
Server time clock is a simple tool to find the clock time of the server you're connected to. Another weirdly Korean thing, but it goes hand-in-hand with the Scheduled Surfing tool. Tickets for the concert go on sale at exactly 5pm from Interpark. Sure, your watch says 4:48pm, but Interpark's web server clock is two minutes ahead. So by 4:58 you're getting in that last game of Clash of Clans while all the "real" fans are making purchases. You log-in two minutes later to discover that you are SOL. If only you'd known what time Interpark thinks it is! Well, now you do. 

I don't think we need screenshots of each and every extension, so here's just a quick list of what else is available:
  • Mouse Actions - To do things like open a new tab when you move your mouse in an L shape while holding the right-click button. Seems 10x more bothersome to me than just Ctrl-T but to each his own. 
  • Right-click Unlock - To let you right-click on sites that forbid it. 
  • "Compensation" aka Hacking Protection and the Anti-Phishing tool - Anti-phishing protection. Verifies that the URL you're at is the site you really want to be at. Of course, this type of service is already built into Google builds of Chrome, but remember, there's no Google integration in this Chrome build. OK you got me, I don't know what the difference is between the two, and don't care enough to investigate further. 
  • QuickLink - Oh this is great. Say you're got, um, 32 tabs open to some "19" sites, and your boss/mom/wife/dog walks in. What do you do? Hit the "esc" key, and boom, harmless legitimate page appears. God, that this is included by default could speak volumes about Korean office work ethics and efficiency, but I'll leave that to other authors. You can also customize the key to press, and the URL that it directs to. So in theory it could have totally legit uses, but come on, we all know what it's here for.
    Be sure to check out the hilarious illustrations, showing a disgruntled employee stirring-up shit about her boss, when the boss walks in! F*ck! Thank God she thought fast, hit that QuickLink key, and looks like a model employee. Looks like. Because that's all that really matters. 
  • ETC. - OK I'm not going to talk about all of them. There's also a screen capture tool, quick access to Daum's online English/Japanese/Chinese - Korean dictionary, memo pad, cache/cookie cleaner, etc.
And yes, eagle-eyed readers will note that most of these extensions are in fact built into the ALToolbar

As a foreigner, some of these don't really have any usefulness to me, but I can see why they're included. Sure, I dislike companies preloading apps/extensions in my software too, but even Google Chrome comes preloaded with offline Docs/Sheets support, and I don't even use those tools online, much less offline. They're the first thing I remove in a fresh Chrome install, and similarly, any of these extensions you don't like in Swing can be removed easily. 

Screenshot 13: Apps page
Not many other apps are included. There's Zum news, and another Zum service, the green one, Timetree (타임트리 ). As far as I can tell, it's basically just a news/sports/entertainment online magazine that tracks progressing stories chronologically. But I didn't give it much look. 

Part 4 - Banking & IE Mode 

Finally we come to the main reason why anyone would consider Swing Browser: online banking and purchasing. Cleverly, the browser knew when I had navigated to my bank's website (KEB-Hana bank), and you'll notice that the purple-glowing "SPEED" icon in the URL bar now dims to gray, and "IE rendering" mode is started. 

I'm going to be honest with you. I am not a web browser expert. Clearly, Swing is doing something more than simply changing the user-agent ID. It's not just pretending to be IE. Somehow it reverts back to the older IE model of page rendering (Trident, I assume). But I'm no doctor, so I cannot tell you how it does this, only that it does seem to do it. Take a look.

Screenshot 14: installing bank security software
Here you can see the KEB-Hana proprietary security software being installed in an in-browser pop-up. Notice also the Veraport icon in the toolbar, and the elevated permissions prompt icon. It works. It bloody works. You saw it here, folks. Korean banking software actually working/running without hassle, on the first try, in "Chrome".

Side note:
Veraport20-2,5,2,2 is a software program developed by Wizvera....Relative to the overall usage of users who have this installed on their PCs, most are running Windows Vista (SP2) and Windows 7 (SP1). While about 71% of users of Veraport20-2,5,2,2 come from the United States, it is also popular in Korea. [source]
Really, 71% of users are from the US? That strikes me as very odd. I've never seen this security program in the US, and I can't imagine so high a number coming from just expats with English-language installs. What gives?

Screenshot 15: online banking in IE mode
Here I just wanted to highlight the "IE rendering" module. That warning on the page, by the way, is telling me that if for some reason the security software module isn't loading right, basically just refresh. Thanks.

Screenshot 16: list of plug-ins
And here's the list of Swing Browser plug-ins (not extensions) after letting the KEB-Hana security software do its install thing. All the banking security software looks good. Oh and look, our old friend AhnLab is there too. 

Final Thoughts

I was hopeful that with the introduction of Microsoft Edge, which uses a newer, updated rendering engine, would spur the Korean government to ease the requirements for banking security software. But it looks like Microsoft made a wise choice to include IE 11 alongside Edge in Windows 10, as these legacy services look to remain for awhile longer still. 

To be honest, while writing this review much of Swing Browser grew on me, and I suddenly started regretting having deleted it a few days ago. But the fact is, I did. It's gone, and it's not going to come back. Why? Well, a few reasons:
  1. Most of my online life is, for better or worse, tied into Google.
    My bookmarks, passwords, extensions, history, life is all synched through Google. I'm not about to move all that data to a third-rate search company that might not even be around next year. Honestly, if Naver had released this browser instead, then there'd be a decent argument for sucking me in. But Zum? Makes me think more of Mazda than reliable cloud services. 
  2. There's no guarantee that this compatibility will remain.
    Yes, it's very convenient not to have to switch to a different browser all the time. But most of this security software was designed for real IE. I don't know how wise long-term reliance on a third-party company is. Heck, even despite the Open Banking movement here, which was supposed to make Chrome/Firefox/Opera banking possible, I still find that it's often not worth it. Just open up the real deal: IE 11 (or God forbid, sometimes, IE 9 or 10). Better than getting in a stressful fight with Chrome flags
  3. Swing still uses those Active-X-esque security tools.
    Don't forget that Swing browser is like a doctor carrying a scalpel in one hand and a saw in the other. Sure, it has modern features, but at least part of the time it relies on the same old technology that we expats love to bitch and moan about. And with potentially good reason. These apps requiring elevated Administrator privilege doesn't sit right with many people. These "security" apps are making deep changes to your system, including to port openings/closings, firewall rules, etc.; changes which can remain even after standard uninstallation. This leads some to recommend doing all your banking/purchasing activity in a virtual machine. That's certainly the safest of available options.
So there you have it. For me, it's still Firefox or Chrome for daily browsing, IE 11 for the times that need it, though I've started loading that in a virtual machine. So far so good. 

Give Swing Browser a try if you want. They even have an Android version, which will sync up to your desktop version and surprisingly has many of the same extensions as its desktop daddy. 

For me, eh, thanks but no thanks, I'm good. I'd rather we all (Koreans and foreigners both) just do what we gotta do to get by for now, while keeping up the pressure on the banks/government to update themselves rather than downgrade us. It's a tactic that worked, more or less, with smartphones and mobile payments, thanks in part to Korean consumers' love of the iPhone. I think Apple's refusal/inability to concede to Active X several years ago, combined with ordinary Korean consumers' preference for iPhone, forced the hand of banks, online retailers, and government agencies, to create alternative methods for smartphone-based purchasing. If consumer use of Edge and Chrome continues to grow, we might see the same happen on the desktop, which in many ways still lags far behind mobile. 

It's weird, really, to come to check-out and have to either fire up my top-of-the-line Android 5 Galaxy Note 4, or my Windows 7 VM with IE 9, to make the purchase. You're either at the bleeding edge, or you're ten years behind everyone else. 

Welcome to Korea.

Read more ...