Every New Year, Koreans flock to the southeast coast of Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang to catch the first sunrise. One of their first glimpses, however, is the sunlight’s red and orange hues touching the multitude of fish net cages that extend endlessly along Tongyeong’s coastlines.
Net cage culture is an aquaculture production method in which fish are held in floating pens. Korea introduced the system in the late 1980s to help boost fish farming incomes. Since then marine farmers shifted to rearing from fishing, filling 1,200 hectares of southern coastlines with net cages. Cage culture increased incomes but decreased fish farmers’ labor.
NHN, which runs Korea’s top search portal Naver.com, is a company that applied lessons from cage culture to its online business. While its foreign competitors Google and Yahoo! were happy serving Korean online users with a standard search function, Naver coined a novel way to attract and breed netizens. It came up with a real-time question-and-answer platform, “Knowledge iN,” generating a user-created database on top of traditional search results from Web sites. This enabled it to create its own sea of information.
The site has become the undisputed heavyweight among search engines here, handling some 70 percent of Korean-language Web enquiries. Once logged onto Naver.com, visitors seldom migrate to other sites. Content providers consequently offer their products at low prices to do business on the popular portal.
But this Naver “cage” is having problems these days. It has come under fire for doing little with its fat revenues earned from free data provided by netizens. Online game provider NCsoft excluded Naver when launching ads for its new game product Aion. Anti-virus solution provider AhnLab also snubbed Naver and joined hands with other portal sites.
Politicians, the antitrust agency and property rights’ bodies are also ganging up on the leading portal.
Net cage culture has downsides, too. The water can easily be contaminated by uneaten feed and fish excreta. Using densely knitted nets to prevent fish from flowing out can make matters worse as waste can easily accumulate.
Cage culture is also vulnerable to external pollutants like red tides and oil spills. Local net cage culture productivity has been falling since 2000 due to such internal and external vulnerabilities.
Net cages are a double-edged sword that contain both costs and benefits. A cage cannot exist without consideration of its surrounding habitat. NHN should be aware of this.
The writer is a deputy economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Na-ree [firstname.lastname@example.org]