Recently there has been a wave of discussion among SOOMPI forum users about its creator, soomp! Mainly, people are asking if this a real person, and who are they? Those who have been around soompi.com for a while will realize that that this is not the first time someone has asked this question, as the topic seems to come up every now and then.
The curiosity about its creator is natural, after all, there is no site quite like soompi.com. With over 600,000 pages viewed daily, and 62,000+ registered members from 129 countries, it may be the longest running English-language site dedicated to Korean Pop Culture (K-pop). Originating as a fansite for K-pop in 1998, soompi.com and its forums has become more than a source of information in English for people interested in all things K-pop. The site has grown into a community for English-speaking Korean-ethnics wanting a sense of identity to their cultural heritage, as well as a community for other nationalities and ethnic groups interested in K-pop.
This place in cyberspace, or this ‘phenomenon’ as some would argue, started out humbly as a small fan site more than 8 years ago. In 1997, SOOMP (yes a real person), a graduate of UCLA and Southern California native, born to Korean immigrants, was introduced to groups like Untitle, Roo’ra, H.O.T, Hamo Hamo, by a friend of hers. She then searched online for English information on K-pop in vain, and decided to start a small resource site for English-speaking fans of K-pop like herself. Back then, she barely knew how to check her email, but knew that people much younger than her could built their own web sites, so she bought a tutorial book on how to make your own website using office ’97, and the rest is history.
So how does a simple fansite grow into something this size? The answer to such question is complex, but perhaps one factor has to do with the idea that ethnic media consumption is in part ethnic identification. More simply put, this place is a medium for Korean-Americans and Koreans living outside of Korea to explore and acknowledge, at some level, their experience as an immigrant group who still want to maintain ties with their ethnic and cultural heritage. Another factor is perhaps a reflection of ‘hallyu’ (Korean wave) in action. When SOOMP created this site 8 years ago, what she may not have realized is that her timeline coincided with one of the most important event in modern Korean culture. According to the Korean Cultural Administration, the hallyu movement “began at the end of the 20th century with the export of South Korean TV dramas, movies, and popular music to China and Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore. And in the 21st century the wave is now spreading to Japan, India, the Middle East, Egypt and Mexico, and it shows signs of expanding further to the United States and Europe”… All this exporting of Korean media and pop culture has raised a huge international enthusiasm and interest in K-pop, and soompi.com has been growing exponentially with the wave.
As SOOMP has mentioned on soompi.com, for the past 4 years or so, SOOMPI has been constantly battling all sorts of server issues due to the ever-growing population & usage on soompi forums. In 2005, when the site and forums finally crashed, SOOMP was at a crossroad and the decision had to be made whether it was time to finally shut this place down. One can only imagine the amount of work and money it has been costing her, but that path did not seem right to her and she made yet another brave choice – to keep the placing running.
In her own words, SOOMP has said that she is “amazed at how far SOOMPI has come in many dimensions – in sheer numbers, quality of information, faithfulness of its members and volunteers, and continuing growth” and that she believes “there is a lot of untapped potential in SOOMPI from all over the world,”. Today and in the future, SOOMP hopes to see this place as “a member-driven megalith of fun, community, and useful resources, that will continue to attract people of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities and to expand their horizons when it comes to appreciating Korean pop culture and each other.”
written by: dramaok
edited by: Saharial
graphic by: mori, soomp!