Social Search Stronger than Google in South Korea

July 5, 2007

I’ve been reading many articles about social search in the press in the last few months. Jimmy Wales’ Wikia (and to a lesser extent Jason Calacanis’ Mahalo) has been getting a lot of buzz and I’m not sure I saw the big potential until I read this article in today’s New York Times. Naver.com isthe leading search engine in South Korea with 77% of all web searches (vs. 1.7% for Google) and it’s leveraging social search.

Highlights:

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 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 more than 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, on average, 16 million people visit Naver — the name comes from the English words neighbor and navigator — keying 110 million queries into its standard Google-like search function. But Naver users also post an average of 44,000 questions a day through 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. Naver has so far accumulated a user-generated database of 70 million entries. (…)

Google, which started its search service in the Korean language in 2000, introduced an upgraded Korean-language service in May. The new version deviates from Google’s celebrated bare-bones style. In South Korea, people prefer portal sites that resemble department stores, filled with eye-catching animation and multiple features. “It’s obvious to me that Korea is a great laboratory of the digital age,” Eric E. Schmidt, the chairman of Google, said in Seoul at the introduction of the new search service.

What it means: I’m starting to think social search has a great future but I also think it’s difficult to start from scratch like Wikia and Mahalo. I also think there might be an amazing opportunity out there for directory publishers (and anyone operating a local search site with a good amount of traffic) to launch a social search application to complement their current database of content. Who will be the first large-scale local social search site?

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2 Responses to “Social Search Stronger than Google in South Korea”

  1. Mat Says:

    I think it’s important to keep in mind the power of the incumbent.

    Now I’m not sure what went down in SK, but I’d be very interested to see the evolution of those market share statistics. My strong suspicion (without knowing any background) is that Naver was first to market with a sufficiently good search product. A late Google entry failed to be a compelling enough reason for people to change.

    Google has achieved strong market share in many countries around the world (obviously North America) and with all its associated services is setting up high switching costs. I don’t expect any niche “social search” sites to pose any kind of significant threat to the (effective) Google search monopoly anytime soon — at least here in N.A. Heck, they’re incorporating local features and staying ahead of the competition in the local space too; so all in all, I say they’re going to be hard to catch.

    There is precedent however, for Davids beating Goliaths in the past.


  2. [...] One of the significant trends of social networks is that they can and do have a distinctively local slant. Most social networks allow users to limit their search or groups to specific localities offering very localized discussions and information. Even more important, social networks are now offering e-commerce type services to its members. An interesting new site, Boomj, is offering reward points and discounts to members who make purchases at their affiliated partners, a kind of Amazon meets MySpace mash up. Targeted to the boomlet generation, or as they call it “Generation Jones”, is aimed at people born between 1954 and 1965 who don’t seem to fit the traditional boomer profile. Boomer and “Generation Jones” are a significant controller of income as well as a growing user group of social media. Within the site are several categories for users to select such as health, lifestyle, finance, shopping, travel and movies. If sites like Boomj and others like it can move users 40+ onto their sites, they will command significant attention from advertisers who seek to tap into the disposable income of these target groups. So when will Yellow Pages come to the social? Yellow Page publishers are just now adopting consumer reviews, which was very late in coming compared to other media, particularly online directional media and vertical sites. It is not clear how coming late to the party has impacted Yellow Page offerings, but this topic will be explored in greater detail at the upcoming Kelsey Group DDC conference in September. With the wealth of local content and obvious verticals, IYP’s could take a local leadership position in topical areas such as local services/contractors, home improvement, home decorating,  financial, healthcare, entertainment, weddings and other lifestyle oriented topics that would be attractive to social media users. This opportunity was discussed earlier this year by my colleagues Peter Kasilovsky and Michael Boland who both provide key food for thought. Also weighing in on this topic is Sebastian Provencher who authors the Praized Blog focusing on social and local media, “I’m starting to think social search has a great future but I also think it’s difficult to start from scratch. I also think there might be an amazing opportunity out there for directory publishers (and anyone operating a local search site with a good amount of traffic) to launch a social search application to complement their current database of content. Who will be the first large-scale local social search site?” [...]


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