“Google it” means “Naver it” in Korea. But…?: Difference between dominance and leadership

Earlier this month, comScore released its first public report of online usage in Korea, one of the most wired country in the world. Two notable statistics from this report:

. Americans “google it.” vs. Koreans “naver” it: NHN(naver.com) dominates Korean search market, with 61.9% search share. Daum, the 2nd, got 19.7%, and Google, the 3rd, got only 7.3%. (few years back, Naver’s share over 70%, while google has 2-3%, so, changing a bit)

. Most visited web sites: #1 – NHN(Naver) reaching 81% of the total online population in Korea; #2-Daum, reaching 73% reach; #3 – SK(Cyworld) reaching 72%.

My few thoughts here:

As you can see, by any measure, Naver DOMINATES Korean internet market. While you say “google it” in English, Koreans say “naver it.” Naver provides an excellent “casual knowledge” search: If I want to know a good italian restaurant in my neighbor, I can naver it, and get good results.

However, there is a rather big gap/difference between google and naver. If someone asks “who dominates Korean internet market?” It has a straightforward answer: Naver. But, if someone asks “who leads web 2.0 development in Korea?” It does not have a straightforward answer. In a sense, naver becomes a barrier for the web 2.0 in Korea. Why is that?

Google lets you “search and leave” vs. Naver lets you “search and stay”: Naver is not exactly search engine per se. Rather, it is a”portal site that has a strength in search function.” If you google something, you get the search results then “leave” google to access the information you want. However, if you naver something, naver tries to “hold” you(visitor) within their website. That means, it basically searches contents within Naver portal site. Because of this, Naver has been criticized, and esp. from news media. It’s only the year 2009, naver started “outlink” news media contents.  (It was 2006, naver started “outlink”, and 2009 to start a ‘newscast’ system where naver no longer ‘edit’ news contents from various news media companies)

. “SEO doesn’t work in Korea LIKE THE US“: SEO is a hot topic in the US, but, not in Korea. Let’s try a small experiment. As an Ogilvy Health person, let me google “lung cancer.” Here’s the top three results: #1 wikipedia; #2 National Cancer Institute; #3 Medline plus(a service of National Library of Medicine + NIH). Now, let me naver “lung cancer” (in Korean language): it shows top five “sponsor link”, then, another top five “power link”, then, another top five “plus link,” then medical information provided by Seoul National University Hospital… Sponsor, power, plus links are all paid search results. A scientific information ranked #16. Where’s the real search result? So, if you want to be top search results @ naver, you got to pay. SEO doensn’t work here like the US.

There’s a gap between “dominance(of the Korean internet market)” vs. “leadership(for the web 2.0 development in Korea).” When I think of Naver, it reminds me “Microsoft in the software industry.” Naver is a very profitable company, but, due to its dominance and “closed” system, it becomes barrier in web 2.0. Obviously, Korea is one of the world’s most wired countries, but, it hasn’t showed yet any leadership in terms of web 2.0 development.

Google becomes a great OPEN PLATFORM for users and even to other companies. But, naver is not an open platform (hopefully, yet).

Recently, Jeff Jarvis wrote a good book “What Would Google Do?” As he claims Google’s actions guide people how to “survive and posper in the internet age.” Despite of the dominance of naver, people wouldn’t ask “What Would Naver Do?” to get the future direction of the web 2.0. One professor told me “every internet businessmen in Korea envy Naver, but, they don’t respect…(their “closed” spirit).”

Well, each company has their own direction. Google has both “dominance” and “leadership.” But, Naver has only one for now. 

Each country has a different web 2.0 direction? Probably. But, to me, at least, ”to open or to close?” is not a question, when we think of web 2.0 future. Hope to see Naver’s leadership moving forward, not just for me, but, for them!

Don’t be evil.