Monday, 2 June 2014

How Naver could be costing Korean companies millions in lost productivity.

Originally posted on the Wall Street Journal 

South Korea is well known for its enviable Internet speeds and ubiquitous connectivity. For many Koreans, the online experience often begins with Naver, the dominant search portal with some 70% market share. The reasons for Naver’s popularity in its local market are numerous but in a business context I believe its search engine model is ineffective and a major drain on companies’ productivity. 

South Korea spent billions of won on Internet infrastructure to connect the nation, but despite the ease with which Koreans could get online there was a problem: a serious lack of Korean language content. Naver helped solve that by pioneering a system in which it crowd-sourced information from its users via their blogs and the popular ‘Knowledge Share’ question-and-answer forum. The genius behind this system was that Naver was the host of both of these sources of information, so search results were met with Naver-created content or on Naver-hosted sites, producing a system that almost exclusively promoted internal traffic. 

A visit to Naver’s portal homepage is an attack of the senses with information and headlines—a complete contrast to Google's homepage. What’s unique is that many of Naver’s homepage links and headlines are directed to sources either developed by Naver or hosted on one of its sites, such as its blogging platform. A common saying in Korea about search preferences is that Koreans visit Naver to be told what to search, while Google users already know what they want to search. 

Anyone who uses Naver for research is wasting time and money

The issue now for Korean companies is multiple generations groomed through university are heavily reliant on Naver for their online research but are getting search results and information from blogs and “Q and A” styled forums. A search in Korean for “Korea Economic Outlook” on Naver’s portal yields results from Naver “Cafes” (like forums), Naver Blogs, Naver News and finally from external sites. None of these are official government sites. 

A search using the same words in Korean on Google yields an official report from the Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance as well as the state-run think tank, Korea Development Institute. The same search in English on Google produces reports from the International Monetary Fund, OECD, KDI and banking institutions. What this means is that information from official sources like the Korean government, thinks tanks and foreign organizations are harder to find with a routine search on Naver – which to an office worker means they could be missing out on a world of professional prepared and developed reports, case studies, statistics and research all accessible for free. Combine this with a lack of English comprehension skills and you have a workforce with poor research skills and lack of information sources. 

What companies are failing to do is educate their staff adequately of the advantages of being able to read and write English in relation to work research. Finally, Naver as landing page will ultimately divert workers attention to current affairs and other “trending” searches. Naver has its strengths, especially in finding out about restaurants and other places of interest in Korea because of its crowdsourced approach to information, but as a search engine at work it is a drain on productivity. 

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