Korea’s Global Chat Leader: Kakao

Written by on December 2, 2011 in Lifestyle

Image Source: Kakao, Inc.

Most of us take our modern modes of communication for granted. We have laptop computers capable of creating the next big movie. Tablet PCs can play games, surf the Internet, and write the next great novel. Our mobile phones have transformed the technology sector by redefining where and how video games are played. Furthermore, these tiny mobile devices have forever changed the way we speak to one another.

When I was growing up, we actually had to go to a phone (tethered to a wall), use a rotary dial, and wait to see if someone picked up. If no one was home (or at the office), we hoped they had one of those new machines that would record a message. Over the years, the human race has devised better and more effective ways to communicate with one another – and by far the most prolific example has come by the way of text messages.

The rapid growth of text messages wasn’t lost on the phone companies. Each quickly tacked on additional charges that picked away the wealth of their customers. That was until Canada’s Research In Motion developed the Blackberry. The phones used a proprietary communication system to allow handsets to communicate with one another instantly, without text message charges. It was heaven… except only those with Blackberries could join the conversation. That all changed in 2010 when the iPhone came to Korea.

Beom-Soo Kim founded Kakao, Inc. in 2010. It was a company with a vision – to provide the best messaging program for smart phones. Jae-Bum Lee now leads the company and oversaw it earning C|Net’s highest recommendation. In November 2011 Kakao boasted over 30 million users worldwide. The reason Kakao Talk grew so rapidly (with nearly 700 million messages being sent over the network each day) is that it allows users to do what RIM’s service did not – communicate with others. Users on iPhones can send messages to those on Android devices. Furthermore, Kakao is now available  on Blackberry devices, meaning that most smartphones around the world can chat on a single platform.

This Korean born product not only allows users to send and receive messages over 3G and WiFi connections, but also allows them to transmit pictures and video instantly. Users can also attach contact cards to their messages, enabling quick sharing of information – something important for businesses. Another strong feature of Kakao is that users can communicate with one another by entering a phone number or by creating IDs. This means that non-cellular devices (iPods, iPads, etc.) can join conversations. Another feature that has earned Kakao its top rating is the ability to form group chats – something relatively few other applications provide.

Kakao Talk provides native language support in English, Spanish, Japanese, and of course Korean. It is able to use any installed keyboard on the host phone and comes equipped with its own emoji set. Just as with its “big” computer counterparts, those participating in Kakao chats can add or subtract users on the fly without having to restart chat conversations. But perhaps it’s the ability to customize chat backgrounds or password protect specific conversations that have made it so popular? Whatever the reason may be, this native Korean application has ridden the wave across the world and made a big splash.

While in Korea, I’ve found this program incredibly useful. For example, back in the United States, my family has an assortment of smartphones. With Kakao, we can send messages back and forth, just as we did when I lived there. It makes living abroad that much easier. As a professional, I routinely use Kakao to discuss travel destinations and locations with my team scatted all over Korea by taking full advantage of the application’s group chat feature. Finally, I’ve been able to collaborate with colleagues  in multiple countries. Sharing pictures and videos instantly to complete time-sensitive projects. Kakao does it all, and does it well.


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.