Wednesday, January 9, 2008

검색--Language, Culture and Web Searching in Korea

Google is far and away the most popular web search tool in much of the world, but not in Korea. The market leader and most widely-used search engine here is Naver. Launched in June of 1999 and using its own proprietary search engine, reportedly commands nearly 80 percent of the search market in South Korea. Google, despite offering a Korean-language interface, still reportedly controls less than five percent of the market. How can this be? The answer is that Naver is a 100 percent Korean-language solution to search. A "search" on Naver does not search non-Korean language material available on the web. While the Naver database is growing and answering search queries by Koreans in their own language, its current ranking as the fifth largest search portal in the world is simply a matter of the number of Koreans using the portal. Here a couple of critical points deserve to be made. First, Koreans who wish to search the entire internet need to turn to another search utility, such as Google or Yahoo. For example, a Korean student considering study abroad would be well-advised to use these more globally-oriented search engines. Second, because of the Korean-language bias of the Naver search engine, there is a built in limit to its penetration of the internet. It will ultimately only serve those who understand the Korean language. Naver is a business success in Korea and it serves Koreans around the globe. But it has its limits. It also offers a splendid example of how language and culture place boundaries on human communication in this new "information age." More on this topic in future posts.


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