Korea has a unique search engine known as Naver (naver.com) which I frequently employ in my searches to find relevant information about Korea and the world. One need only spend a few minutes using Naver's convenient maps, informative "café" discussion groups and interactive dictionaries to realize this search engine is unique in the world. The intelligent combination of search features, news features and social networking features in one site is quite powerful. Koreans are extremely picky consumers, but many prefer conducting their searches and socializing through Naver to Google.
Naver's "knowledge search" program uses a dialogic approach to locating relevant information that was the inspiration for "Yahoo! Answers," according to Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo! Moreover, Junior Naver has a very impressive range of activities for children that have a higher educational content than is generally the case in its foreign rivals.
But in spite of all the world-class innovation taking place at Naver, there is no English (or any other language) version of Naver available. What a shame! Koreans have invested that much into building a world-class search engine and social networking platform that offers a truly interactive space, but if you don't know Korean, you cannot use it.
The time has come to take remarkable innovations that are locked away from the international community and make them the backbone for a breakthrough global search engine and on-line community. Although the current language is limited to Korean, much of Naver could be taken global.
This hesitancy to go global has haunted Korea for some time. Korea was the first country in the world to develop metal moveable type, back in 1377, with the Jikji Buddhist text. Unfortunately, Koreans did not see metal moveable type as a breakthrough innovation with global implications and left it to the Europeans to fully exploit this technology.
More recently Cyworld came on the stage in 1999, employing ground-breaking "mini home pages" and avatars that offer a unique social networking experience-one that Facebook has yet to match. Sadly, however, Koreans did not invest early in taking the Cyworld concept global. The international version of Cyworld was developed far too late, and even then, it was set up in such a way that it was not possible to connect with the members of the Korean Cyworld community-thereby cutting the international version off from its foundations.
Facebook has taken over the social network market globally. Cyworld did not fail to reach the status of Facebook because its content was inferior, it but because the inspired individuals who developed Cyworld did not think seriously about its assets from a global perspective. Somehow being successful in the Korean market seemed good enough, or perhaps they felt that Naver's features were so uniquely Korean they would not have any international appeal.
Naver, still has a chance for global success, but Naver cannot succeed globally by simply export parts and finished products like Samsung and Hyundai. Naver will have to bring in to the tent experts from around the world to help design localized versions of Naver suited to other markets markets. The challenge will be great, but so will the opportunity. Koreans should be more confident about the potential global markets for domestic innovations.
Emanuel Pastreich serves as a professor of Humanitas College at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and director of the Asia Institute. His original field is comparative Asian literature, but he writes broadly about technology and society, culture and international relations. He has a popular blog called Korea: Circles and Squares.