KTH closes Paran to focus on mobile biz

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KTH closes Paran to focus on mobile biz

Portal site Paran, one of the descendants of Korea’s computer networks that were dominant in the 1990s, will be consigned to the history books on the last day of this month.

KTH, one of the affiliates of mobile service provider KT, announced the shutdown last Friday, saying its board meeting voted for the move.

Those using e-mail, blogs or address books attached to Paran can apply to have their data transferred to Daum Communications, the nation’s second-largest portal. Their e-mail addresses will be automatically replaced with accounts provided by Daum’s Hanmail, whereas bloggers’ addresses will remain unchanged.

The closure comes eight years after the portal was born following a merger between Hanmir, a search engine site, and Hitel, one of four paid private computer networks that relied on modem dialing in the 1990s. It signaled a generational shift from slow Internet services to the rapid proliferation of broadband in the late 1990s.

“It’s a strategic choice we have made to focus on mobile business,” said Lim Wan-taek, head of KTH’s mobile business department. “We were complacent about the computer network business for too long and belatedly jumped into the Web business. Then we failed to show a tangible outcome and this made us realize how important it is to cope well with a business or industry from the outset.”

KTH has been producing smartphone apps such as Pudding Face Detector, which matches people’s photos with celebrities, and Pudding Camera since 2010.

Hitel was launched as the first network of its kind in Korea in 1992, the same year as its competitor Chollian was born. Nownuri and Unitel followed suit in 1994 and 1996, respectively. There users chatted, wrote on bulletin boards and exchanged files.

But those mostly text-based services, recognized by Koreans as “PC communication,” were undermined by the spread of the World Wide Web in the late 1990s, which enabled viewing of photos, graphics and videos.

Daum launched Hanmail, a free Web mail system, in 1997 and came up with an online community service called “Daum Cafe” in 1999. Their visual attractiveness drew users of PC communication.

Naver became Korea’s top portal site in 1999 after introducing its so-called “knowledge search,” a then-revolutionary service that enabled users to find and share information based on questions and answers. Portal sites also had a competitive edge over PC communication, which charged monthly fees, given that they provided all of their services for free in return for advertising profit.

Hitel was not content to just stand idly by and watch the rapidly changing business environment. It launched a Web version of its site in 1999 and merged with Hanmair to further this end. By the early 2000s, the number of its users stood at 30 million. Although it offered 100 megabytes of e-mail storage capacity, up to 10 times more than its rivals, it was always disadvantaged by its relatively late entry into the market. Its market share among portals recently dropped to below 1 percent.

By Kim Chang-woo, Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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