South Koreans, long the leaders in online communications, are foregoing e-mail as they look for new ways of instant communication.
Daum Communications, the leading e-mail provider in South Korea, has announced that page impressions for its e-mail service are down for the first time ever. The company's e-mail service page views fell more than 20 percent from 3.9 billion in October 2003 to 3 billion a year later. Actual e-mails sent dropped by 16 percent in the same period. This is in sharp contrast to SK Telecom, Korea's leading mobile phone company, which revealed that monthly SMS transmissions jumped more than 40 percent in October last year, from 2.7 billion text messages sent 12 months previously.
A recent poll of 2,000 teenagers also revealed that more than 75 percent of respondents use e-mail "rarely or never." The poll, carried out by a Chungbuk University computer professor, reported that the biggest reason for the drop in e-mail usage in the young was that it was seen to be "old fashioned" and "slow." Many complained they had no way of knowing if the mail they sent had been read.
Cha Juyoung, a student at Yonsei University in Seoul, said she only used e-mail to send essays or reports for her course. "Otherwise, I can contact my friends on my cell phone, send them texts or use instant messenging," she said. Another reason for the decline is the improvement in other forms of technology. Mobile phones and MP3 players are becoming the communication tool of choice in South Korea.
The Internet is viewed as a place to have fun and express your individuality, but not a place to communicate.
Step into any of the thousands of Internet cafes, or "PC bangs" in Seoul and you will find no one using e-mail. Most males will be playing computer games, while females will be updating their home pages.
Home pages have been the fastest growing online industry in Korea over the past few years. Cyworld is the undisputed king of the industry, hosting more than 10 million home pages. The company's page views soared from 650 million in October 2003 to 17 billion in October last year. The trend has even spawned a new term -- a "cyholic" -- meaning someone who spends hours updating their home page every day.
Cyworld spokeswoman Michelle Park is confident that the number of users will continue to rise. "Having your own home page shows individuality and you can express yourself more," she said. "There is no way to express yourself through e-mail and that's why young people are not using it so much."
Kyung Lee, a high school student from Incheon, west of Seoul, agrees: "I can spend a lot of time on my home page. I put up my photos, music and diary. My friends and I leave messages on the boards of our pages, it's more fun than just e-mailing."
SK Communications president, Yoo Hyun-oh, believes this trend will grow. "E-mail's efficiency falls in terms of promptness, convenience and credibility," he said. "With the continuous emergence of new communication means, communication formats will develop further."
And there are indications that e-mail usage in the West is dropping too, because of spam and spyware. According to US research company Osterman, 44 percent of Internet users in the US are using e-mail and the Internet less than they did a year ago.