Google Korea Unveils New Homepage

Web 2.0 | 2009/12/07 22:52 | Web 2.0 Asia

Discaimer: Google is my current employer. This post is purely personal and therefore does not represent the company's official voice in any ways whatsoever.

Google Korea has that radically breaks out of the company's trademark scantiness. Google's Korean homepage now displays more content right up on its front page, featuring popular search keywords, most searched-for people ("who's hot"), and the directory of Google Korea's services. 

What's most interesting on Google Korea's homepage is machine-produced "topical search keywords". Google looks at what topics people are most interested in, and present those topics as search keywords in the form of short headlines. (This is purely algorithmic and no human efforts are involved in the whole process.) This way, viewers are immediately drawn into the subjects and are likely to click on the headlines -- by doing which they are essentially undertaking internet search on Google. In Korea, much of internet search is done this way, meaning browsing through links and clicking on interesting ones, as opposed to entering fresh search keywords into the search box. (Not that the latter is nonexistent, though.)

Korean blogosphere seems to be torn on this "portalization" of Google Korea's homepage. Some like it, saying Koreans should give credit to Google Korea for its efforts to radically customize its global service to better suit the local needs. Others say Google Korea may lose its identity, and this catch-up game won't help Google to overcome the local incumbents. 

It remains to be seen if Google Korea's move will help or hurt the company to gain more turf in this tough Korean market, but one thing is very clear: This is a very big move by Google. This new, content-rich homepage is only available in Korea -- and this is worlds apart from Google's . In a way, this shows Google is very much committed to the Korean market, even to the point where the company is willing to ditch its hallmark simpleness, something many in and out of the company has long regarded to be near impossible. Will Koreans like this move and pay more visit to Google Korea for their internet search? The jury is still very much out. 


Open Dictionary is a natural-language English expression search service, brought by a prominent English education institute in Korea. The idea is simple enough; You enter a sentence in Korean, and then Open Dictionary finds the best English expression for the particular sentence for you. Open Dictionary is sort of a Google universal search for English studies: It crawls data from various sources, including news articles, Q&A content, literatures, bible, and even movie clips. 

It's a pretty simple service, but I find it working quite okay. When I typed "당신은 정말 멋져요" (You look gorgeous), Open Dictionary gave me some quite relevant search results. The service also allows viewers to add annotations to provide tips, which could come handy when experts (e.g. English teachers) could add more context to a certain expression. ("By the way, this is a great pick-up line at the bar.")

Remember Lycos? One of the original internet search pioneers, Lycos was pretty big back in the nineties. I still remember people almost automatically citing Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Lycos as the "top three" major internet search services (This was pre-Google). To this date, the company's mascot, the black German Shepherd, is pretty strongly entrenched in the memories of many people who had ever experienced the Dot Com boom. 

Those were the heydays for Lycos, but the company went downhill as the Dot Com boom became Dot Com bust. The company ended up in the hands of Spain's Terra Group, and then later got sold again to Korea's Daum. Lycos didn't flourish under Daum's ownership either -- Lycos was a money-losing business for Daum for a long time, eating away Daum's what little profits. 

But (drum rolls please) not anymore. Recently Lycos announced the company posted the first profit in over 5 years. Jungwook Lim, Lycos CEO (whom I know well), is obviously gung-hoed by the company's surprising turnaround. According to Lim, Lycos posted around $1mm quarterly profit in Q3 '09. This is a remarkable feat, especially given the fact that Lycos is not a major internet destination site anymore. 

It remains to be seen if Lycos will continue posting profits, or more fundamentally, churn out good services that will put Lycos on the map yet once again. But Lim and co. definitely deserve huge credit and kudos for what they have already achieved. Turning Lycos around? That's a heck of a job. 

Cyworld US Doesn't Know "Graceful Sunset"

Web 2.0 | 2009/11/09 23:12 | Web 2.0 Asia

This is from last week, but definitely needs revisiting. Cyworld US announced it's closing its service. Well, services can close (though basically it's a disaster and it shouldn't happen, as people lose their data), but the real problem is how horribly the company is handling the whole situation. I am appalled by the lack of professionalism in the email notice they sent out. How could they not hire a single English-speaking person to write an email of this importance? The email is so full of grammatical errors that almost half of commenters in the Techcrunch article actually think it was poorly translated by Google Translate, while the email was originally written in English. 

Thank you to all members with Cyworld.

Due to Cyworld shuts down US service, US Cyworld will no longer be able to service. We sincerely apologize for shutting down the service with unavoidable reason.
Before US cyworld close the service, you will continue to access to US cyworld contents but not purchase items. Also, you will not use your acorns.
If you have unused acorns, you will be given a full refund for paid acorns only.

Refunds and data backup service is in progress, using the acorn will no longer be able to purchase for miniroom items, skins, etc.

@ Schedule for closing US Cyworld service
Due to Data Back-up and closing service issues, the service will be unavailable.

* Shop service will be unavailable since Nov 03, 2009
Club service, Profile photo/data upload serivce will be unavailable since Nov 23, 2009

But the poor English aside, a more fundamental issue is how they handle the user data. They do not provide any data back-up (in .zip or .xml), nor do they provide a smooth transition path to other Cyworld domains (such as Cyworld Korea). They are so hastily taking off that they are leaving everyone's data behind. This is so wrong. Apparently "graceful retirement" is not in their dictionary. Well, judging from the quality of their email, I wonder if they have a dictionary in the first place. 

Before discounting Koreans in general, I would like to say that this is a rather universal case of a big company screwing a small startup it had purchased without understanding the whole industry thoroughly. (Cyworld had been acquired by SK Telecom, and reportedly many senior Telecom folks had moved out to Cyworld to head its business).

TAG cyworld, cyworld US, Engrish

ShowStreet, dubbed "Virtual Street Walk", displays actual photos of streets on top of Google Maps, making user feel as if he was virtually walking along the street. The service is now live in New Zealand, and will soon be launched in Australia too. 

Users initially see the customized version of Google Maps where streets of interest are highlighted (blue lines in the picture above). Click on one of the streets, and the actual photos of the selected street will be displayed on the top half of the screen, so that user can see the building facades and shop fronts. User can scroll the photos left and right, and the location marker on the Google Maps move correspondingly. 

Local shops and businesses are tagged with clickable links; Click on the link, and the popup layer displays shop information such as phone number, business hours, and reviews. ShowStreet also allows business owners to add their business information to ShowStreet directly (See video). 

ShowStreet is a product of collaboration between Korea's PlayStreet, which I had covered in this blog earlier, and a New Zealand company called Web Concepts. This creates a great case of a Korean web service getting launched in other countries through partnership. 

Often, internationalization means launching an English version, which many people somehow automatically accept to be the same thing as launching in the US market. But of course the two may not be the same, and launching an English version in a non-US market first may also be a good way to test the waters, potentially with lower costs. With the experiences gained from New Zealand and Australian market under the belt, the PlayStreet/ShowStreet team would hopefully be better prepared to launch a more rock-solid US/global service. 

TAG maps, playstreet, RainD, Showstreet, Web concepts

Cyworld to launch App store

Web 2.0 | 2009/07/08 16:52 | Web 2.0 Asia

Similarly to Facebook, iPhone, and Mixi, Cyworld is also launching (link in Korean) its own version of app store. Earlier, Cyworld had announced plan to support Google's Open Social. Third party application developers will soon be able to write apps that can run on Cyworld Minihompies and submit those apps through "Dev.Square", Cyworld's developer network. Apps will be able to leverage Cyworld's user data and social graph. 

Then the apps will be listed on and sold at Cyworld App Store. Consumed applications will be displayed in the user's Minihompy profile or as a post entry. 

Users will be able to recommend Cyworld applications to Cyworld friends (1-chons), whether or not they are actually using such apps. Through Open Social activity stream, other users will receive feeds of their friends' newest apps. 

Interestingly, Cyworld will only allow free-to-use apps initially. However, that doesn't mean app developers won't be able to monetize off of their apps. Cyworld will allow pay-as-you-go, or "freemium", monetization model (e.g. a game should be freely distributed, but virtual items can be sold within the game). Cyworld will share the incurred revenue 70:30, 70 for app developers. Developers would have much preferred a paid app store, but the "free apps" policy may lead to a wider initial adoption of the apps anyway. 

For those who are familiar with Facebook and iPhone app stores, nothing much in the Cyworld app store plan jumps to the eye. It all sounds familiar, which actually makes one wonder why it took this long for Cyworld to build its app store. 

Also, like other social networks embracing Open Social, Cyworld is focusing entirely on getting apps onto its container site ("Out=>In", so to speak), while not supporting external apps to import Cyworld social data ("In=>Out"). Later case might lead to many more interesting opportunities (imagine finding your Cyworld buddy's Wishlist right on an online bookstore), but in defense of Cyworld, other social networks are also much more sheepish about exporting their social graph out, as opposed to enriching apps and thereby drawing more users to their own sites. Stay tuned for more updates about Cyworld App store. 

Startup Seoul

Web 2.0 | 2009/07/01 15:19 | Web 2.0 Asia

This is a hopelessly belated post, but recently there was Startup Seoul (link in Korean), a great event put together by three startup entrepreneurs - David Lee, John Kim, and Daesan Hwang

The event was held in the chic office of Zenitum, where David works. Two startups presented their services in front of other startup folks, who provided some intense feedback. The presenters were SundayToz and HugeFlow. SundayToz is a social games startup, and they are just about to unveil an RPG game on Facebook; HugeFlow, a Silverlight and RIA (rich internet app) specialty house, is trying to apply their RIA technologies to create a more interactive, user content-rich online map. 

Overall, my expectations were totally exceeded. We had great startups, the food was good, and the discussions had substance. People always ask me if there is any good web startup meetups they can join, and I think Startup Seoul can be a good one. (The next one hasn't been scheduled yet, but you can stay tuned.) Given one of the organizers hail from Canada (that's David), I'm sure the event is pretty open to English-only speakers too. 

Naver Japan search finally unveiled

Web 2.0 | 2009/06/17 14:12 | Web 2.0 Asia

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. 

Who said Twitter is only for individuals? Korean Twitter users are gathering together and making self introductions on a site devoted to "the ice-breaking among Korean Twitterers". User can make a self-intro of up to 500 characters by twitting with "#self_intro ... #+" hashtag. The site was built by web expert Chris Kwon. I wonder when Yuna Kim will say hi on this forum. Go check it out at here

TAG twitter

Itgling allows threaded blogging, akin to Gmail

Web 2.0 | 2009/06/12 13:13 | Web 2.0 Asia
Itgling (pronounced It-glee-ing) is a new blogging service from Korea that tries to foster threaded communication among bloggers. After a quick spin, I find it a pretty unique and clever concept. 

Traditionally, the way readers engage with a blog post has been pretty much limited to comments and trackbacks. But both have their limitations though. Comments are a good discussion channel, but they are generally short-lived and not copied back onto the commenter's own blog or site. That's why so many long, thoughtful comments that are absolutely as worthy as a blog post (or even a column) don't see the light of the day as new blog posts. To solve this, trackback has come out; Trackback allows blog posts to behave like comments. But trackbacks are so difficult to understand and use that they've been mostly embraced by geek bloggers only. 

That's where Itgling comes in. Itgling allows bloggers inspired by a specific blog post to write related blogs very easily. When a blogger sees an interesting blog article and wants to add his thoughts, he can click to write "Itgle" (pronounced it-gle), meaning "connected story" in Korean. Then the story appears on the bottom of the original article. This way, related stories are connected through a "vertical" thread. If there is more than one "Itgle" (connected story) on the same level of vertical hierarchy, those stories are "horizontally" aggregated together, divided by tabs. 

For example, in the screen grab below, there are three blog posts about movies in the gray box. All three posts were composed as connected stories for the parent post, shown on the top. The three posts are on the same hierarchical level and are aggregated together, separated by tabs. 

The selected "connected story" itself has 2 connected stories, which are displayed on the bottom. You can write yet another connected story simply by clicking on "Write Itgle" button. 

This way, related stories are easily written and added to the thread, and the readers can follow the whole chain of discussions more easily. Itgles work essentially like trackbacks, but are much more intuitive and easier to use than trackbacks - finally trackback for normal people!

Overall impression of Itgling is that it makes reading and writing related blog stories in an easy and intuitive way, similar to the way Gmail made following email threads much easier. The down side of Itgling is that actions are only happening on the Itgling site itself, not on one's own blog. Itgling is still in closed beta.  

TAG Itgle, Itgling
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