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The Real-Time Web? Been There, Done That
The 'Web of Immediacy' has had negative effects in Korea
Jean K. Min (jean)     Print Article 
Published 2009-10-09 10:13 (KST)   
Naver main page showing the real-time beat of hot search keywords
©2009 NHN
The news of the crime was gruesome enough. A nine year-old girl the media dubbed Na-young to protect her identity was brutally raped and abandoned in a church toilet on the morning of Dec. 11.

Almost 80 percent of her genital organ was irreparably destroyed despite the best efforts by the local medical staff. Her colon and rectum, infected from being exposed to the dirty toilet sewer in the cold winter morning, had to be surgically removed.

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The predator was Cho Du-sun, a 54 year-old man and was shortly apprehended near the crime scene. To the dismay of horrified parents in the country, however, Cho was sentenced to a mere 12-year imprisonment, far lower than people thought he deserved, since the court ruled that he was under the influence of alcohol when he committed the crime. Cho would have faced a much harsher punishment, people fumed, if the crime was committed elsewhere.

Netizens React: Real-Time Gone Wrong

Korean online space went berserk at the hideous news, with tens of thousands of angry netizens petitioning for a maximum penalty for Cho and demanding a new legislation that would allow judges to punish child molesters up to life imprisonment or more.

Soon, dozens of netizens, determined to reveal his identity, kicked in spontaneous online hunts. A purported picture of Cho has surfaced on the Web a few days later and circulated immediately in blogs, discussion groups and Twitter.

Alas! It was the wrong person, making him an inadvertent victim of the furious online witch hunt. He filed a suit against the netizen that first uploaded his picture, along with hundreds of other online vigilantes that copied and pasted his picture on the Web.

Call it a curse of the real-time Web that has gone terribly wrong.

Clive Thompson, a columnist for WIRED magazine has recently shown his excitement about how the real-time Web is leaving Google behind. But I'd say that Koreans had been there, done that and do not have much good to share with others.

From its early days in 1990s, the Korean Web has been the Web of immediacy, an ideal space for the restless young Koreans searching for an instant gratification with the help of their online peers. Naver, Daum and other key portals in Korea fostered the such trends by combining news and search box in their main page and soon growing as a single destination for the national conversation. Lastly, display of the real-time beat of hot search keywords has been one of the most prominent feature of the portals for years, as it was the useful index for users to follow the hot conversation of the day. Naver has even released an iPhone app of its hot keyword service.

Funny thing is, many news organizations, hyper-sensitive to incoming search traffic from portals, have dutifully followed the hot search keywords up to the minute, generating relevant articles that include those keywords, and thus attracting bulk search traffic. Sometimes even news sites that pursue the quality journalism jumped on the bandwagon of keyword hunting, defending their action that the very fact Netizens are buzzing about some issues is good enough to warrant some follow-up stories.

News Organizations In The 'Web Of Immediacy'

It was a vicious cycle in the Web of immediacy, as the portal's news content galvanized users to conduct a series of spontaneous online searches around the day's hot keywords. And that in turn triggered news media to generate more articles about the issues, resulting in the growing dominance of the real-time Web among Koreans.

This is in stark contrast to the Google's approach to search. Google combines two key factors in determining the most relevant link -- 1.the number of cross references pointing to a site, 2.whether the specific site grew slowly and organically, which tends to be a 쐌arker of quality as Thompson wrote in the WIRED column. In short, Google was indexing the Web of the past whereas Koreans were requesting answers for the today's topic. No wonder that the Google's total share in the search queries of Korea has remained at just over a few percent points for years.

Korean netizens have asked for the Web of immediacy, a real-time update about the day's hot topics, but Google answered them with the Web of the past, though verified over time.

Real-Time By Another Name

Another name of the real-time Web, however, is the emotional Web. The Web of immediacy has spawned a giant online vacuum in Korea, generating an insatiable appetite among Koreans for anything to gossip about. In the real-time Web that is Korea, people were sucking in news every hour, every minute and every second. News media answered them with tons of up-to-the-minute flash news.

Naturally, verification of the facts in the news stories increasingly took a backseat to speed.

The journalism of immediacy that thrives on the emotional Web is diametrically opposed to the journalism of accountability and credibility. The gaffe made by the online vigilantes while they were hunting for the identity of Cho was waiting to happen. Something like it was inevitable.

The real-time Web? Koreans have been there, done that. What Koreans need now is not so much be the Web of immediacy, optimized for the instant gratification, as the Web of accountability and credibility, verified over months and years -- just as Google has proven successfully with their search algorithm so far.
*For more musing on Korean tech issues and memosphere please visit my blog; Planet Size Brain (link: http://planetsizebrain.tistory.com)
©2009 OhmyNews

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