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.
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?