Pyongyang may be building nuclear missiles, but it has yet to figure out how to launch a decent Web site. The home page for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is such a strikingly amateur piece of work that many who find it wonder if it isn’t some sort of hoax. Meant to convey the DPRK’s point of view to skeptical Westerners, the site’s pages instead attest to the difficulties of English as a second language: “The traditional Korean clothing is composed by the inferior clothing.” A huffy explanation for the country’s withdrawal last Friday from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty claims “the USA is creating an energetic crisis.” Whatever message the site intends to deliver is buried beneath clashing clip-art graphics and a navigation interface that should have usability guru Jakob Nielsen blogging for days.
After examining the site’s links—such as a sign-up page for the Korean Friendship Association illustrated with a gun-toting soldier, MP3s including “Raise Your Weapons To Wave Our Supreme Commander,” and a souvenir shop that takes orders by e-mail—a nagging realization sinks in. The official Web site for a nation of 25 million people lacks any statements or documents from government sources. The only contact info is an anonymous email address.
If Dear Leader’s home page seems like a fanboy shrine, that’s because it is. It’s built in Barcelona by Alejandro Cao de Benos, a twentysomething Spanish IT contractor who frequents Pyongyang. (“It’s so different from what people say,” he claims over the phone.) By crossing Karl Marx with the Cluetrain Manifesto, Cao de Benos convinced DPRK cultural officials that to garner support from the Google generation, an amateur site beats no site at all. He maintains it as a volunteer project for North Korea’s Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries.
But it may be the one national home page not visible to its own nation. Inside North Korea, local intranets aren’t allowed to plug into the Internet’s corrupting content. The country’s Web site, served from an ISP in Texas, is for foreigners—it’s a digital, pro-Communist equivalent to Radio Free Europe. Is it working? Cao de Benos claims upward of 6,000 daily visits, along with hundreds of signups for his friendship club. The BBC and New York Times have linked to him. NPR called him the other week to chat. If the world’s most insular nation can get that kind of play from a site this bad, maybe Saddam’s people should give Cao de Benos a call.