Korea Technology Review2009.03.31 10:06



Naver gives up 'walled garden' and introduces Newscast and Opencast

"If China has a 'Great Firewall of China,' Korea has a 'Great Firewall of Naver.'"

Many netizens unhappy about the ever-increasing power of Naver complained that 'Korea's Google' is destroying the Korean Web ecosphere by monopolizing the vernacular online traffic. Indeed if you listen to it very hard, you could almost hear the giant sucking sound of Naver gobbling up near 70 percent of Korean Web traffic.

Naver is Korea's top search engine but simply calling it a "search engine" would be a disservice to this Korean internet giant. Imagine Google, Yahoo, eBay and Electronic Arts merged together one day to create a one-stop online destination for every American -- only then you can properly appreciate its imposing presence among Koreans.
Unfortunately for many online start-ups, this home-grown Korean search engine did not just work as a conduit leading to the greater Korean Web; it instead built a giant walled garden where no content is allowed to leave once it comes in, destroying the delicate balance of Korean Web ecosphere.

So goes complain from many independent-minded net users, but it was not just sophisticated power users that were complaining about its arrogant practices. Korean news sites that sell bulk of their news content to Naver started to feel uneasy as well about the growing power of Naver as a news portal.

Newscast, a new platform Naver introduced this January is the Naver's answer to this growing concern.

Its main news box, previously edited by Naver's internal editors, is now open to near 40 independent news providers including OhmyNews.com. Naver will randomly show 40 different news boxes edited by each of them as a slide show. If a user clicks any news link, it now leads to a final article page of each news site.

Will this change mitigate their anger and make them happy finally? Their reaction so far has been mixed.

Each of the news sites invited to fill in its edited news box on the Naver's main page has been instantly bombarded with huge traffic, increasing its page views by two to three folds.

Some minor news sites with limited server and network capacity had to ask Naver to stop sending traffic after they saw its system keep crashing or slow down remarkably.

Even for a big name news site that can handle sudden explosion in page views, it is still unclear how they can make the best of this traffic from Naver given the absence of a working business model--Korean news sites rely heavily on the sales of display ads and sponsorship deals with big name advertisers and for now they are clueless about what to do with the mounting traffic. 


To make the matters worse, they will have to purchase new servers and network capacity to cope with the exploding online traffic whereas no new working business model is yet to be identified any time soon.

Still, Naver seems to be happy to know that it can finally put out an excuse for all those complains about Giant Firewall of Naver. Naver introduced Opencast at the same time, a platform targeted at bloggers but not unlike Newscast in its purported nature of traffic diffusion. Naver is also toying with expanding its concept to display ads -- it plans to allow users to select only ads they would want to see.

Whether the great diffusion of Korean online traffic triggered by Naver's Newscast and Opencast will lead to the diffusion of its Web dominance remains to be seen. The fact that everybody is intently watching Naver's next move is the one powerful evidence that Naver is still the kingpin of Korean online ecosphere.

Posted by PSB

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