Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Google Korea and the Future of Search in Korea

The dominance of Naver, Daum and Empas in the South Korean search market, along with the failure thusfar of Google to garner much market share here, has caught the attention of internet-industry watchers around the world. It is illustrated by the accompanying graphic generated by a search of Google Trends (click on graphic to see a full-size version).  How can it be, many analysts note, that  Google is struggling in the nation with the world's most advanced broadband internet infrastructure?  The answer is largely to be found in language and culture.   Naver is less a search engine than a social-networking internet portal.   It doesn't search the internet.  Instead, it relies on a growing database of Korean-language only material in order to answer queries by Koreans.  As a Korean colleague with considerable internet industry experience told me, "when Koreans search on Naver, they simply want to know what other Koreans are thinking."   Or perhaps they simply want an answer in their own language, and Naver is extremely successful in providing such information.  This explains why its "Knowledge-in" feature is one of the most popular parts of the site.
In broader, more global terms, the very strength of Naver is probably its weakness.  Because it was built by Koreans, for Koreans and in the Korean language, it serves them extraordinarily well for certain purposes.   However, for the same reason, it probably will not do as well in North America, Europe and other international markets.  Also, even for certain purposes here in Korea, Google is superior to Naver.  One example that comes to mind is the many students and parents who are looking for information about study abroad in English speaking countries.  In most instances, they will find more up-to-date information, in both English and Korean, by using Google as their primary search tool.  They will also avoid the pitfall of being overly influenced by "sponsored links" and the web promotion of private study-abroad agencies who pay to sponsor those links.  So, for the benefit of Koreans themselves as well as the future integration of Korea into global cyberspace, we should all hope that Google succeeds here, at least moderately.  More on this topic in future posts.

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