By Lee Chang-sup
Naver, Google, and YouTube unveiled their 10 most popular search words and terms here for this year. They offer a fascinating insight into exactly what South Koreans were thinking and what they were looking for in 2010.
President Lee Myung-bak may be disappointed when he checks the list as it does not include the G20 Seoul Summit, the four river project, or North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyong Island.
Dramas, singers, sports stars and mobile gadgets monopolized the list. Many adults may scratch their head in trying to understand them.
Naver’s top 10 on its Search Word Section included an SBS romantic comedy series titled “My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox” (kumiho) and the seven-member girl group T-ara, also known as Super Rookies.
Also on the list was Mnet’s Superstar K2, a reality television competition to find a new singing talent. The 19-year-old Jang Jae-in is one of the stars born through Superstar K2, a Korean version of American Idol. Manchester United player Park Ji-sung and figure skating star Kim Yun-a hit the list. Girls’ Generation was the darling of visitors to Naver. The group topped the list on YouTube.
The top ranker was KBS2 drama “King of Baking Kim Tak-gu,” a story of bread, love and dreams. The drama chronicles the life of a determined young baker on his road to becoming the best baker in Korea from the 1970s till the 1990s. The story features his childhood, his adulthood, successes and trials and his mother's past.
Its viewership skyrocketed to as high as 50.8 percent, outshining all the other TV programs. It created a boom in bakery sales and a mushrooming of bakery shops.
The second placed was also a KBS2 drama called “Sungkyunkwan Scandal,” a historical drama that told of a romance in the prestigious school Sungkyunkwan of the Joseon Kingdom.
A poor lady of the time disguises herself as a man to take the test to become a government official as women were forbidden to enroll. Upon entering the school, she builds a romance with the son of a Jeoseon Kingdom state minister. Together they grow and learn in their pursuit of building a better Joseon.
The SBS romance drama My Girl Friend is a Nine-Tailed Fox was in third place.
For MBC it was a disastrous year, as none of its dramas made the list.
These dramas were so popular that even students in American universities watched them and they were also featured by Wikipedia.
Cable TV Mnet was also in the limelight ― its program, Superstar K2, ranked fourth as it produced many star singers.
Twitter was also on the list, indicating the growing role and influence of social network services.
Suicide was one of the most queried words on Naver last year. President Roh Moo-hyun and actress Jang Ja-yon killed themselves and Michael Jackson also died of a drug overdose ― although not self-administered.
The list gave lessons to parents and CEOs. Without knowing these favorite words, they may have difficulty in communicating with their children and young employees, respectively.
They may also ask puzzling questions. Are Naver users not interested in politics or the economy? Are North Korea’s repeated provocations, including the torpedo-sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, outside the radar of Naver users? Is President Lee less popular than singer-song writer Jang Jae-in? Are entertainers kings and queens of society? Is Korea becoming the “Society of Entertainment?” Did the G20 summit anger Koreans? Will Kim Jong-il get angry because he did not catch the attention of South Koreans? Does Korea consist of two different societies ― the online and the offline?
The answer may be yes and no. The list may be partly misleading in understanding what Koreans were thinking because more than half of Naver users are in their teens and 20s.
In addition, the survey covers only the Naver Search Word Section. Most Naver users visit the section to get information on personalities, dramas and issues that appeared in the Newscast Section. Naver users search more than 900 million newspaper articles and type in 130 million search terms daily on its search engine.
A Korean surfs more than 20 news articles daily, compared with three search words every day. If news were included, the top 10 list would be different.
Different age groups have different interests in diverging topics. Teenagers love drama and entertainment; while the 20-somethings are interested in issues on education, employment and military service. Property and new cars were the most favorite search words for 30-somethings; while the 40-something group surfed golf and the media most. Drawing curiosity most among those in their 50s were calligraphy, horticulture and health.
Google Korea also announced an annual report called Zeitgeist, literally the spirit of the times. Its most common query was Huh Gak, winner of Mnet's Superstar 2 singing contest. He was the most-browsed personality in Google's search engine this year in Korea. Its fastest rising on the list were iPad and Twitter. Samsung’s Galaxy S was searched more than iPhones and iPads. The Sungkyungwan Scandal was the most scanned drama.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.