Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 9 News List

S Koreans don't `Google' -- they `Naver' instead

Mutual assistance among South Korean Web users has made Naver.com the leader of Internet search, way ahead of Google

By Choe Sang-hun  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SEOUL

Park Hye-ran, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, wanted to know the shortest route from a bus terminal in the southern port city of Busan to a fish market to the east.

That is precisely the kind of question Cho In-joon, 50, a seller of lottery tickets in Busan, loves to answer.

Sitting at a computer installed at his street kiosk, Cho posted a reply for Park -- and for other Naver.com users who might one day ask the same question -- with instructions on where she should switch trains, where she should disembark, which station exit she should take and how long it would take to walk from there to the market. He even attached a map.

"When people I have never met thank me, I feel good," Cho said. "No one pays me for this. But helping other people on the Internet is addictive. I spend three hours a day on this work by cutting down on my sleeping time."

Thanks to Cho and tens of thousands of other respondents, Web users in one of the world's most wired countries seldom "Google" -- they "Naver."

Tapping a South Korean inclination to help one another on the Web has made Naver.com the leader of Internet search in the country. It handles more than 77 percent of all Web searches originating in South Korea, thanks largely to content generated by people like Park and Cho.

Daum.net, another search portal, comes in second with a 10.8 percent share, followed by Yahoo's Korean-language service with 4.4 percent.

BARELY THERE

Google, which became the top search engine in the world based largely on its spare, no-frills interface, barely registers in the country's online consciousness, handling just 1.7 percent of South Korean Web searches, according to KoreanClick, an Internet market research company.

"No matter how powerful Google's search engine may be," said Wayne Lee, an analyst at Woori Investment and Securities, "it doesn't have enough Korean-language data to trawl to satisfy South Korean customers."

Naver's success has surprised many. When NHN, an online gaming company, set up the search portal in 1999, the site looked like a grocery store where most of the shelves were empty. Like Google, Naver found that with few people other than Koreans using the language, there simply was not enough Korean text in cyberspace to make a Korean search engine a viable business.

"So we began creating Korean-language text," said Lee Kyung-ryul, an NHN spokesman. "At Google, users basically look for data that already exists on the Internet. In South Korea, if you want to be a search engine, you have to create your own database."

The strategy was right on the money. In this country, where over 70 percent of a population of 48 million use the Internet, most of them with high-speed connections, people do not just want information when they log on; they want a sense of community and the kind of human interaction provided by Naver's "Knowledge In" real-time question-and-answer platform.

Each day 16 million people visit Naver -- whose name combines "neighbor" and "navigator" -- keying 110 million queries into its standard, Google-like search function. But Naver users also post an average 44,000 questions a day at Knowledge iN, the interactive Q&A database. These receive about 110,000 answers, ranging from one-sentence replies to academic essays complete with footnotes.

The format, which Naver introduced in 2002, has become a must-have feature for Korean search portals. The portals maintain the questions and answers in proprietary databases not shared with other portals or with search engines like Google. When a visitor to a portal does a Web search, its search engine yields relevant items from its own Q&A database along with traditional search results from news sites and Web pages.

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