"Naver Japan is building a new web search service", its changed homepage now says - duh, no surprise whatsoever there, but some take it as a sign that Naver may have finally become ready to roll out its new search service in Japan. Naver has kept its website closed for some years. 

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Naver search had actually launched in the Japanese market earlier (circa 2005), but the service didn't make any splashes - it even saw some backlashes, as Naver search engine's crawler ("Naverbot") was found to make too frequent attempts to index websites and the Japanese web admins didn't like that, leading to their blocking of Naverbot.

Since, Naver has been investing wholeheartedly in the new search service for the Japanese market. Along with Baidu, Naver is trying hard to crack into the lucrative Japanese market, but it remains to be seen if Naver (or Baidu) will win enough users away from the dominating Yahoo Japan or the growing Google Japan. And there are also other local players like Goo, who understand the local market much better. Unless the service delivers a significantly better performance, it will be very difficult for Naver, a service that clearly carries a Korean image, to lure users away from Yahoo Japan.
TAG , Naver,

Mugeta: a blatant Mobage knock-off

Mobile | 2008/08/26 01:01 | Web 2.0 Asia

This came on my radar only recently, but there is a Korean mobile game and social network service called "Mugeta", that has copied Japan's popular Mobage service (short for "Mobagetown", or "Mobile Game Town") down to the name itself: "Mugeta" in Korean is short for "Muryo (free) Game Town".

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Photo from ETNews.co.kr

The service is provided by Entaz, a mobile content service provider, through KTF (Korea's #2 carrier). Mugeta began service in April this year, and reached 0.2 million subscribers mark in just four months. To put this in perspective, Mobagetown of Japan has been around since February 2006 and today has 9 million subscribers. So at least in terms of growth, Mugeta is pretty impressive.

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Mugeta is free - users get mobile games (there are 58 game titles available now), avatars, mobile homepage (called "phone-py", perhaps after the minihompy), all for free. Mobagetown also used its free content to build up the initial user-base, and when they amassed a big user base, monetization followed.

KTF says over 70% of Mugeta service users are teens (under 20), and female users take up 43%, which is pretty high compared to other mobile content services.

Well, in this age of globalization, a best practices in one country can get copied very quickly in other countries. People may quickly point their fingers to China, as that's an easy one to spot, but StudiVZ shows that Germans know how to copy, too. That said, I seriously wonder if Mugeta has partnered up with DeNA (the provider of Mobagetown) or is paying them royalty. Otherwise, I would be very uncomfortable.
TAG Games, KTF, Mobagetown, Mobile, Mugeta

Open Web Asia '08 website is now up!

Web 2.0 | 2008/08/14 12:44 | Web 2.0 Asia

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So it started with some random thoughts, but it's finally here - Open Web Asia '08, the first truly pan-Asian web conference with one of the best speaker lineups you can ever get from any web conference. It's happening in Sheraton Grande Walkerhill hotel in Seoul, Korea on October 14, and the official website is now up. (You can also download the official PR here.) Online registration will follow soon, but you can drop an email for pre-registration now. The registration fees will be $200 after a special World Knowledge Forum discount, and will include lunch and refreshments.

Okay, so what is Open Web Asia? Well, I think this can be a good tagline: We got so tired of hearing there's no good web conference in Asia to attend, we just created one. To quote from my Open Web Asia blog post:
So why does Asia need another web conference? Doesn’t each and every country in Asia already have almost too many web conferences? Why Open Web Asia?

Well, you know what? We are coming from China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, USA, France, and Germany - and that just about describes the kind of conference we have been trying to create. A first truly pan-Asian web conference where Asia’s web innovations can be introduced to the rest of the world in English; A world-class web event with “killer speakers” where thought leaders from the Asian web industry as well as from the Silicon Valley share their insights; A unique chance to discuss intra-regional business opportunities, say, how effectively a Korean web company can be funded by a Japanese VC and launch in the Chinese market; And last but not least, a great networking event where the audience can bump into the “movers and shakers” from Asia and the rest of the world. 

Here are the speakers confirmed to date. We are expecting to hear from some other great speakers in the coming days. (In an alphabetical order.)

  • Kevin Day (CEO, Comsenz) (China)
  • Arthur Chang (VP of Global Sales, Alibaba) (China)
  • Yongjoon Hyoung (CEO of StoryBlender & Founder of Cyworld) (Korea)
  • Yongseok Jang (Senior Director, eBay Asia Pacific) (Korea)
  • Yozo Kaneko (Director and COO of ngi group, inc.) (Japan)
  • James W. Kim (CEO of Yahoo!’s Korea Region) (Korea)
  • Jimmy Kim (Executive Vice President, Nexon Corp.) (Korea)
  • Loic Le Meur (CEO, Seesmic) (USA)
  • Ram Lee (Head of Communities, NHN Corporation (Naver)) (Korea)
  • Kent Lindström (Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, Friendster) (USA)
  • Shusaku Maruko (General Manager, Corporate Strategy Department, Felica) (Japan)
  • Jean K. Min (Communications Director, Ohmynews) (Korea)
  • Akio Tanaka (Partner, Infinity Ventures) (Japan)
  • Bill Wang (VP of Overseas Business, Perfect World) (China)
  • Andreas Weigend (Consultant & Lecturer; Former Chief Scientist of Amazon) (USA)
  • Kwan Yoon (Partner, Bluerun Ventures) (USA)

Well, for those outside of Asia, some of the speakers might not sound so familar - but tell you what, these are some of the biggest stars from the Asian web industry. Take Comsenz for example - if you are familiar with the Chinese web, you would know BBS absolutely rules in China, and Kevin is the founder and CEO of China's #1 internet BBS company. Or Ram Lee, who is the "hermit guru" of the Korean social web... Do you know what she brought to the world? How about Cyworld Minihompy and Naver Knowledge Search, the two trail-blazing services that forever changed the way Koreans use the internet. Speaking of Cyworld, its original founder, Hyung, is also coming to speak.

The one-day conference will have four sessions, each consisting of talks and panel discussions: 

  • Session 1: Insights and Best Practices. We'll invite thought leaders to share their unique insights and industry outlook with regards to the Asian web industry.
  • Session 2: Innovations in Asia. Speakers for this session will come from the arena where Asia has especial forte, such as gaming and mobile, and will talk about the Asian innovations that could be better understood/promoted outside of Asia.
  • Session 3: Collaboration. This is a session where we will look into the ways Asian countries can collaborate better together, for example among China, Japan, and Korea.
  • Session 4: East meets West. We will listen to the stories from the Asian companies trying to launch into the West, or vice versa, and try to draw strategies and lessons.

Open Web Asia will be held in association with the 9th World Knowledge Forum - dubbed Korea's Davos Forum, the prestigious forum's previous speakers include Colin Powell, Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Jack Welch, and Michael Dell. It will be held on October 15-16, on the same venue (Sheraton Walkerhill), so you could register for both and spend some intellectually challenging/refreshing three days in Seoul. For more information on the World Knowledge Forum, please visit their site.

So overall it will be a great conference to attend, to say the least. Again, you can start (pre) registering at our registration page. $200 is a good value - some of us even call it a bargain - for a conference of this quality. There's also sponsorship opportunity as well, and you can subscribe to our blog to stay tuned.

PS. I am especially proud of the organizers - Andrew, Angus, Benjamin, Bernard, Chang, Gang, George, Howie, John, Shun, and Tangos - who has recently been joined by the Korean local team, namely Taewoo, Mina, John, and Seongeun. The chemistry we built over the enormous virtual efforts is so great, that I think we could even do a startup together. A separate post on the organizers will follow later.
TAG Asia, Open, Open Web Asia '08, social, web, World Knowledge Forum

How can web change the world? Gremz of Japan knows one answer

Web 2.0 | 2008/08/06 12:16 | Web 2.0 Asia

This year's Web 2.0 Summit will be themed "Web meets world", in an attempt to look into the web startups that can leverage the web to actually change the world and solve our society's difficult problems, whether that be energy crisis or poverty. (Check out this O'reilly piece - highly recommended.)

From Umair to O'reilly, the big thinkers these days seem to be onto the meme, "Can the web change the world - our physical world - in a meaningful way?" The thing is, there's a Japanese web widget that does just that.

I stumbled upon this Japanese widget via a blogger based in Japan (who writes about Hatena and other Japanese web stuff). It's called Gremz.

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Gremz is a blog widget (which are called in Japan "blog parts") that displays a tree, which grows as you write more blog posts. When the tree grows to a certain level, you are planting an actual tree (physically), in areas like Inner Mongolia or West Africa.

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From looking at the website only, it's not very clear how the economics work here - namely who pays for trees etc. I can only imagine the blog companies are subsidizing this in return for their added content, but this is only a guess and I'll appreciate it if someone clarifies on this.

Anyhow, this is indeed a good idea. When we surf the web or watch online videos, we don’t necessarily think we are contributing to global warming. But surprisingly, the Internet revolution is increasingly becoming one of the biggest culprits of climate change. This is because servers that power the internet consume massive amount of electricity, and the majority of electricity is still being generated by burning fossil fuels.

For example, according to a latest study, a virtual character or “Avatar” on Second Life (a popular internet game) consumes nearly as much energy as a real-world Brazilian does, and annually emits similar amount of CO2 as driving an SUV for 2,300 miles.

With Gremz, you don't have to feel guilty anymore - keep on blogging, and you are planting a tree in Inner Mongolia! Now, who would have thought blogging could make the world... greener?

"Guru's Library" from Naver - who said the company was evil?

Web 2.0 | 2008/08/04 22:03 | Web 2.0 Asia

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Korea's leading internet portal Naver is undertaking a great non-profit project, in partnership with local Starbucks.

The program is called Knowledge iN's Bookshelf (link in Korean). "Knowledge iN", which also happens to be the name for the hugely successful Q&A service, means "guru" in Korean. ("지식인", "知識人")

Under this program, Naver asks gurus from various fields to pick up the best books off their own personal bookshelves. We all know great people are great readers, and peeking into their favorite book collections would certainly be intellectually intriguing.

Then, those books hand-picked by the gurus appear physically in select Starbucks coffeeshops for free reading. (See the top left picture.) The Knowledge iN's Bookshelf website provides links to let the users know which Starbucks coffeeshops have those books.

Despite its huge success and obvious contribution to the Korean web industry in many ways, Naver has been called "an evil company" on, well, more than one occasion - probably due to the company's alledged closedness. But a project like this is something even Amazon isn't known to be doing (Come on, you guys even have Starbucks HQ in town!) and can help enhance Naver's corporate image. Below is a screen shot of Knowledge iN's Bookshelf - these are the books hand-picked by Chan-Wook Park, a prominent Korean movie director. (Seen the Oldboy?)

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TAG Knowledge iN, Naver

Samsung Armani TV

Other | 2008/08/04 21:57 | Web 2.0 Asia
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When I was at Samsung Mobile's marketing team, I often had business meetings with companies like BMW and Bang & Olufsen to discuss joint marketing and product launch. Until as late as in the 90's, Samsung was thought to be a cheap microwave brand - but the brand is now recognized as an upscale, premium marque in many product categories including mobile phones and LCD TVs.

Samsung's latest effort to seal its premium image is the Armani LCD TV. According to the Korean media, the 52-inch LCD TV will cost about $8,700, and will come with a wooden frame that's "hand-painted over seven times." Well, do you really need your TV frame to be hand-painted for seven times? Apparently some people do - if your car gets the paint job done by hand, why not your TV? Add this to the "a must have item to prove you are filthy rich" category.

One of the best mergers happened in the history of Korean web industry was between Naver, a Korean portal, and Hangame, a popular online gaming site. Naver acquired Hangame to form NHN Corporation in 2000. Until this time, Naver had been considered a fledgling, promising web portal at best. Naver was fairly popular, but was a #4 or #5 player - with the solid leader being Yahoo Korea which looked nearly impossible to be dethroned.

But it turned out Naver was very smart, as the company kept investing the cash earned from its Hangame service into Naver search to make the search service better and better, until it became somewhat of a monopolizing web search among the Koreans. Someone at Naver, most likely its founder and Chief Strategy Officer Haejin Lee, had a piercing eye through to the future and saw that search was going to be the biggest killer app of all time on the web. Buying Hangame was a well calculated tactic as improving search required funding and Naver was yet a publicly traded company, though the company just finished $10mm funding. Hangame wasn't cheap at the time either (valued at some $60mm, with Naver worth about $250mm at the time), but Naver decided to make a big bet on Hangame - and the combined company took off from there.

I recently read a story on EST soft, a Korean software company that recently went through IPO (getting itself on the rare list of tech IPOs lately). EST Soft is best known for its Altools suite of free software. EST charges corporate customers, but still the revenue wasn't enough for them to go public. So they started an online game service, including Cabal Online. Gaming service made up about 2/3 of EST's total revenue last year, and without the revenue contribution of game service, EST Soft wouldn't have been able to go public successfully this year.

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So, from the cases of Naver and EST Soft, one is faced with a question: Is gaming service the proven cashcow for web and software companies? At least in the Korean market, the above statement has seemingly held true. Game services has been to web/software companies what Jonathan Papelbon has been to Boston Redsox - namely, a trustworthy reliever who could help them win.

It's no secret that web services are very difficult to monetize, and I assume this is not the case for only the Korean market. When faced with a right business model, folks have resorted to things like Google Adsense, freemium, and mobile service. Well, how about adding to the list a gaming service, as a sideways cashcow business that can assist the main business by injecting cash? What do you think? Is this a good strategy, or a less desired strategy that only diverges the company's business model? Will this work in other markets like China or the US?

TAG Cabal Online, EST Soft, Games, Hangame, Naver, NHN
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