KOREA: Google launches Korean-style web search engine service

Google also considering multi-column search result format for its other international sites

The Korea Times
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

By Cho Jin-seo

Google is taking another step back from its "simpler is better" strategy in South Korea, reshaping its Web search engine service into a categorized, graphic-rich style that serves the Korean users' taste.

The company also said it is considering adopting the multi-column, contents-tailored look in other countries, its International Project Manager Jung Ki-hyun said.

"This is not a Korea-only project. All of Google has been involved in this project, and we are thinking of adopting the same system to other language versions," said Jung, who is based in the Google global headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Jung refused to elaborate, but said that the company has already been monitoring Google users in many countries on how they respond to the categorized, graphic-rich look, though most of them do not realize they are being watched.

It is a rare compromise from the Internet giant to localize its service on such a large scale. Google has kept its global and local services as simple and as light as it could, and minimized human touch in the process by letting its "robot" program decide what information to show to users. Now, the firm is going after Korean portal sites, such as Naver, Daum and Nate, which prefer to show more images, graphics and news articles in separate sections on the search result screen in a fashionable format.

"We didn't want to make the Korean site the same as our global site," Google Korea CEO Lee Won-jin said in a press conference held at the company office in Gangnam Finance Tower in Seoul, Wednesday. "So we have worked to develop a new user-interface to best suit the Korean Internet users and this is the product."

Google is the world's second most visited Web site after Yahoo, according to Web ranking site Alexa.com. But both Yahoo and Google have less than 5 percent of the search engine market share in Korea, which is dominated by Naver and Daum.

The revision of search engines is an attempt to raise Google's presence in Korea. Last week, the company also launched the Korean version of the YouTube video-sharing site, which also faces tough competition with local services.

While Google is trying to mimic Korean sites, Korea's No. 1 site is doing just the opposite.

Naver opened a Google-style search engine service on Wednesday. The front page of the "Simple Experience" site (http://se.naver.com) has a similar appearance as Google's, with only one search window in the middle and no ads.

The search result list also looks like Google's. For example, when searching the Web with the keyword "Lee Myung-bak," the ordinary Naver search engine gives a page that is 164 kilobytes. The simplified version shows a page of only 52 kilobytes, closer to the one from Google, which is 36 kilobytes. The smaller the size of the page, the faster the Web page appears onscreen.

Naver's spokesman Nam Ji-woong said that the Google-like Naver site is still in a demo version but is fully operational. "There are demands for such a simplified, light Web search system, so we are watching how users like it," he said.