Friday, August 8, 2008

Why Google Must Succeed in Korea, for Korea's Benefit

I have read umpteen articles in recent months that note Google's lack of success in penetrating the South Korean search market.  As shown by the accompanying graphic, Korea and China are two stunning examples of markets in which Google is struggling.   Many of the recent media reports extoll the virtues of Korea's own search engines, especially Naver, with its "Knowledge-in" feature that is so popular here.  The clear implication is that Google's streamlined web pages, that return clean, well organized search results, are somehow inferior to the wealth of organized information returned by a Naver search.  In an effort to achieve some clarity here as to what is happening with "search" in the Korean market, consider the following:
  • Naver returns only Korean-language results, coming from its own databases, rather than crawling the internet as googlebots do.
  • Whereas Naver is a Korean networking site where you can search for answers to your questions in Korean, it does not even claim to search the vast non-Korean parts of the Internet.  Google has a more ambitious goal, to explore the whole internet, including all of its languages. 
  • The preceding realities mean that search results in Google will typically be far more complete and comprehensive than those in Naver or similar Korean search engines.
  • In addition to the scope or comprehensiveness of a search, there is the question of sponsorship bias, or the role of money. Google provides search results that help you find information about the topic of your interest, while Naver will tell you everything that sponsors want you to know and have paid for you to know about that topic. 
If you are skeptical about the last bullet point, take any search topic, open two tabs in your browser, and do a search for the term using both English and 하국말 as you please.  Earlier this afternoon, I did side-by-side Naver and Google searches using the term "Community College" in English and  "커뮤니티컬리지" in Korean.  The results are very revealing.  For an interesting blog posting related to this topic, see the Waiguoren's Weblog posting from September 2007.
Because the leading Korean search engine, Naver, has limited its search offerings to the Korean language, it is "searching" and building only a small part of global cyberspace.  While I agree that Korea and Korean language searching are very important, they should not be presented to Korean netizens as the ultimate solution to search.   In a sense, because of the realities mentioned above, the success of Google in Korea is an important measure of globalization and mindset here.  After all, why should Google not do well in Korea?  Google Korea is a Korean company, hiring Korean employees, and contributing directly to this economy.  Furthermore, its corporate goals seem to very compatible with some of Korea's central aspirations.  Ultimately, for Korea to succeed in the information age, it will need to be fully and seriously engaged in the internet search market, not narrowly focused on Korean-language-only social networking.  The success, even if moderate, of Google Korea, can be a great help to this country in achieving its economic goals.  The failure of Google Korea, in the absence of a better search algorithym and method, will not bode well for this nation.  There is a great deal more to be said on this topic.  More later.  In the meantime, I'd like to hear what the rest of you think.

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