North Korea Splurges $15 on Official Website Redesign, Shocks American Designer

By Alexandra Burlacu | Apr 22, 2012 08:28 PM EDT

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The North Korean government continues to spend hundreds of millions on embarrassing rocket launches, but it seems to have a far lesser interest in PR. The reclusive totalitarian regime has recently redesigned its official Web site, investing a grand total of - hold your breath - fifteen bucks.

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The new homepage of North Korea's official Web site was actually designed by Robert Westmore, from Southern California. Westmore designs Web sites for a living, but he had no idea that the template he posted for general consumption on ThemeForest.com had become North Korea's national homepage. "I had no idea," Westmore told FoxNews. "Honestly, I didn't even know North Korea had a website."

Accidentally Discovered by a College Student

The fact that North Korea spent just $15 on redesigning its official Web site, korea-dpr.com, was accidentally discovered by a college student, Wired reports. Michael DiTanna, an undergraduate at Fordham University, New York, was working on a class project about Korean propaganda.

DiTanna immediately noticed the country's flash-heavy redesign, which he believes to be only a few months old. Being a computer science major, the student quickly recognized Westmore's $15 Blender template, on which the North Korean site was based. "Right away I saw that the site was produced through a purchased theme," DiTanna told Fox News. "They just did a really sloppy job of cleaning up the source code."

The site has been the official face of North Korea since 2000, and was created "for the people outside DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], to have basic information and a direct connection point with the country," said Cho Son-il, a.k.a. Alejandro Cao de benos de Les Perez, an honorary citizen, as well as the first and only foreigner to ever work for the North Korean government. Cho Son-il is an authorized North Korean spokesman, and the person who built the site. The North Korean official site claims to get an average of 12 million hits per month.

$15 Template for Personal Blogs

Templates such as Westmore's $15 Blender template are mostly intended for personal blogs or Web sites, not for international regimes or government sites. For Westmore, however, any publicity is good publicity. "As a web designer I'm always happy to see my work getting utilized," he told Fox News. "Especially when it's on a high-profile website." Let's just hope the American government hasn't put him on a blacklist.

According to Cho Son-il, one of his goals was to boost the search ranking of the DPRK's official Web site, but had a budget of only $100 a month to do so. "In the year 2000, there was not a single site about the DPRK with information from the DPRK. The first sites given by a Yahoo search were the CIA Factbook or the South Korean government," Son-il told Fox News. "But now we are positioned among the first in most search engines even though our initial budget was just 80 euros per month."

(reported by Alexandra Burlacu, edited by Surojit Chatterjee)

 

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