Wikitree first earned its fame for a breaking story known by many as the “hanbok incident at Shilla Hotel.” The story was about a celebrated hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) designer who was denied entry to Shilla Hotel`s buffet restaurant because she was wearing a hanbok.
Wikitree is a news website based on social networking services. In just two years since it opened on February 1, 2010, it has carried about 56,000 stories and been cited as one of the media most frequently viewed by Twitter users. The news website is operated mostly along the same lines as Wikipedia. But unlike Wikitree, which has shown such explosive growth, the Korean version of Wikipedia lags far behind, despite having been in operation much longer. It will mark its 10th anniversary in October this year.
To date, Korean Wikipedia has only 186,000 pieces of knowledge posted. Some statistics show that Wikipedia is the least used online search tool compared to the number of Korean Internet users. So how come Wikitree can make it but Wikipedia can`t?
Wikipedia`s co-founder Jimmy Wales says it`s because of a strong rival called “Knowledge Search.” He was, of course, referring to the search portal Naver, where individuals provide separate answers to questions posted on the website. Nobody but the original authors can edit the answers. Wikipedia, on the other hand, has people colluding on a single subject, all the while constantly editing to fine-tune.
Dr. Hwang Joo-seong, senior researcher at the Korea Information Society Development Institute, defines Naver`s Knowledge Search as an “individualistic collective intelligence,” in contrast to Wikipedia, which he calls a “collaborative collective intelligence.” Based on this analysis, he believes the Korean Wikipedia`s lack of progress is due to a cultural and fundamental absence of collaboration and discussion.
Comparing Koreans and Americans who have participated in creating collective intelligence, he has learned that Americans are more appreciative of group processes such as collaboration and discussion. They also believe that collective rewards are more effective in promoting collaboration than individual rewards, and that even a random group of people will eventually establish its own order and rules.
Kim Sang-bae, a professor of diplomatic science at Seoul National University, sees different types of knowledge and information preferred in the East and the West. Westerners place more emphasis on sharing objective information with people in an official relationship. To Asians, emotional contact with their primary group such as family and friends is more important. This is why Koreans prefer empirical knowledge over objective knowledge and find more joy in exchanging thoughts and feelings on social networking sites than from conversing to form new knowledge.
Asians also are guided by the Neo-Confucian view that knowledge represents one`s character. Having one`s writing edited by others, therefore, would be a direct challenge to his or her character. These are the reasons why the Wikipedia model is not applicable to Korean culture.
But what was poison to Wikipedia was the formula of success for Wikitree. The folks at Wikitree may call it “history written together,” but collective effort is rare. Reporters write under authentic IDs and are measured by the amount of writing they produce. The more prolific they become, the bigger the chances of working up to the “pine tree” level, starting from the lowest “apricot tree.” Wikitree is also a media specifically controlled by relationships and networking; more than 70 percent of the website traffic is from those using social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook.
The stark contrast in the development of Wikitree and Wikipedia is unfortunate as it seems to prove that Koreans are interested more in flocking together to exchange trivial information, chit chat and gossip. They seem to lack the selfless intellectual temperament for using verifiable information to create an open-ended knowledge ecosystem for the public at large.
Jeong Yak-yong, one of Korea`s greatest thinkers who went by the pen name of Dasan (“Tea Mountain”), left behind a legacy of more than 500 books co-written with his students of the Dasan Circle in the 18th century, an age without the blessing of the Internet. He must surely have been a mutant. Fortunately for us, a mutation can be inherited.
[ January 18, 2012 ]