Naver Japan search, the culmination of years of hard work by the Korean search giant, has finally been unveiled and is now available to some 5,000 beta testers. Reviews are already coming in, and based on the initial impressions and feedbacks, it looks like the service is quite well received among the closed beta testers.
What's noticeable even at the first sight is the clean UI. The Naver hallmark green hues are used quite extensively but in an eye-pleasing way. On the front page, hot search queries are placed prominently (using flash graphics), showing current memes and attracting impluse clicks.
Image from Hatena Blog
Naver uses flash graphics to create a graphically rich UI, much in contrast to the bare-bones UI of Google and Baidu. For example, images on the universal search results page are displayed with a coverflow interface (see below). And the use of flash graphics doesn't seem to particularly slow down the sites. Besides, what might also help is that Japan is already one of the top countries in the world in terms of broadband use.
Image from Hatena Blog
Naver is arguably the pioneer of universal search, where different types of search results are displayed together on one big screen so that user can find all related stuff in one place. Naver Japan gives universal search results as the default view, but in addition to universal search, Naver also offers other interesting search types (navigatable by choosing different tabs.)
In addition to image and video search, "Kuchikomi (クチコミ)" search allows searching for "what people say about this topic" and displays BBS or Q&A content. "Theme (テーマ)" search shows related topics or categories associated with a certain search keyword so that user can do search focusing on a specific category. For example, for a search term "BMW", Naver Theme search gives "Car", "Film", "Person/group", "Game", "Sports", etc. Choose "Car" and you naturally get BMW cars as search results; Choose "Person/group" and you get people related to BMW, such as team BMW race drivers.
Also "Matome (まとめ)" tries to employ user participation for search results. User can create a topic page and populate that page with content, which will be given out as search results when other people search for that topic on Matome search. User can create a links collection page, image/video collection page, quotes collection page, or custom content page for a given keyword. For instance, you can create a tell-it-all page for Macbook Pro. It's sort of a combination of Wikipedia and search, it seems.
It remains to be seen if Naver will see a similar level of success in Japan as it had in Korea, but at least this much is clear: Naver seems to have achieved a difficult feat of creating a service that's well localized for the target market, while not losing its home-brewed forte and identity. For Naver, success in the Japanese market is ever important. Japan service will be the "canary in a coalmine" for Naver, as it will tell Naver if their success formula is just a Korean thing or something that can work anywhere else in the world.