Korean Technology: Kakao Revisited

Written by on May 28, 2013 in Lifestyle

I’m sitting at my desk typing today’s article with my laptop wirelessly connected to the Internet and my smart phone streaming in music via a VPN. I might appear old, but the truth of the matter, is that I have been working online since the Internet went public. From its debut, I’ve been fascinated with one particular aspect of Internet life: communication. I have been specifically interested in synchronous and asynchronous communication platforms. In 2011, I wrote an article about KakaoTalk. Since that original article posted, a lot has changed and it’s time to revisit Korea’s chat leader.

In the United States, and many other nations around the globe, text messaging is still king. These short messages are transmitted millions of times per day because they are free. For a nominal fee, mobile phone users can send and receive unlimited text messages. This enables them to communicate with their friends. In Korea, where a majority of mobile phone users have smartphones with unlimited data plans, a better messaging option was crafted. Thus, KakaoTalk was born.

Some estimate that nearly 70% of smartphone users in Korea have KakaoTalk installed on their mobile device. Something they have in common with over 40 million registered users world wide. Why? For one, the chat application runs on nearly every mobile platform: iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Samsung Bada. So no matter what phone one has, an individual can send a data message to anyone, anywhere in the world. This not only includes text messages, but video messages and VOIP phone calls.

The application has received a very warm reception around the world and was the first ISO 27001 certified mobile messenger. Today it is available in twelve languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese (traditional), Chinese (simplified), and Korean. Another feature of the application many find helpful was the addition of “Plus Friends.” These super accounts include commercial brands and celebrities, which send information to customers. Personally, I really enjoy receiving special sale messages and coupons for some of my most frequented restaurants via the Plus Friends. These accounts also allow for brands to interact with their customers.  But the developers didn’t stop there.

KakaoStory was introduced as a mobile alternative to Facebook. While many in the west use Facebook extensively to share status updates with friends, upload pictures, and comment on others’ activities, in Korea many opt to do this via KakaoStory. Within the application, users have the option of writing notes or uploading photos; however, there is one innovation seen here that is absent from Facebook.

The above image shows one of the reasons why KakaoStory is so beloved amongst its user base. The ability to effectively emote a response on a post is missing in Facebook, despite repeated attempts to have it implemented. Simply liking something isn’t enough. If something is cool you can state it. How many times has a status been posted online where “liking” it doesn’t seem appropriate? With KakaoStory, there is an option – click sad.

For many in South Korea, KakaoStory is the preferred way to share information while mobile. Because of its integration to KakaoTalk and domestic market penetration, South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s office opened an account. “About 34,000 people have already asked to subscribe the KakaoStory account, the office said. It also said the top office will try to improve communication with the people by diversifying SNS channels,” according to a Korea Times report.

Developers expanded upon their social networking roots and opened their network to game developers. While the games were stand alone applications, they drew upon the contact list inside KakaoTalk, creating friend lists. The result was that when a user played the game, their score was posted for all their friends to see, creating a competition environment.

Ani-pang was the first break out hit and captured the nation by storm. During the height of its popularity, it was virtually impossible to go on any bus, subway, or train without seeing most individuals glued to their phones playing this game. As time passed, more involved games appeared, including the current reigning number one, Wind Runner.

Two new applications have joined the Kakao family as of late. KakaoPoll is an integrated application that allows users to create polls. In addition to sharing the poll via the KakaoPoll application, the developer has integrated both Facebook and Twitter support.

The other new addition is KakaoAlbum. This new application enables users to cull photographs into various albums. While the pictures can only be viewed inside the application, they can be shared via KakaoTalk. Furthermore, members of the album can upload more pictures, comment on the album, and contribute to a collective experience.

In its short time, Kakao has become the major player in mobile communication in Korea and a powerhouse internationally. With our lives continuously becoming more and more data driven it will be interesting to see what new application this technology leader releases.

For more information, visit Kakao.

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About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.