While Google is the search engine of choice for the majority of American Internet users, garnering on upwards of 75% of the search market dependent on who you're talking to - it is actually a less sophisticated tool than search engines in Korea. Why would territory the size of the state of Minnesota have more advanced search technology than the Grand Daddy of Search Engines who competes with countries 200 times its size, namely China?
More like portals than search engines, both Daum and Naver provide search that aggregates text, images, video, music and user-generated content while surfacing 50,000 questions a day posted by its users. According to Dean Donaldson of AdAge, "the concept of a simple text search is pretty alien to Koreans and is quickly becoming alien to us when you consider the time we are now image-and-video searching ourselves."
Daum Web site
Mobile search is also far more advanced in Korea than in the West. Since 3G adoption took hold in Korea and Japan years prior to the US, and with over 70% mobile penetration - mobile devices are used far more than PCs in Korea. Couple that with location-based social services, augmented reality and bar-coding, Koreans are using their natural outdoor environments as billboards to search. With AR marker overlays available on buildings, restaurants and points of interest (POI), 'location' is the key to search, and the East leads in this technology at present.
These advancements allow mobile operators to monetize these services and accrue new revenue streams. According to one report, although Naver is far ahead of Google in both PC and the mobile Web market, the gap is smaller in the mobile arena. Feeling the threat coming from Google, NHN, Naver's parent company said its search engine should be pre-loaded into smartphones, along with Google which is currently being offering as the default search engine for the iPhone and Android-based smartphones. Their rationale is based on offering users more features and services.
A Naver mobile search for a subway station, for instance, will return a map, information on the subway line serving the station, connecting bus lines, restaurants and shops near the station, blog entries mentioning it, and more. Naver's question-and-answer search service called, "Knowledge Search,'' inspired similar services by Google, while Web communities and blogging platforms like Daum's "Cafe'' and SK Communications' "Cyworld'' provided the prototype of Facebook and other globally popular social media services available today.
All in all, I think Google will catch up and exceed this country's capabilities just because its critical mass and resources far exceed what Daum and Naver can do on their own. When that day comes, the governments of North and South Korea may choose to put restrictions on how large Google can continue to grow in their countries. in comparison, Google garnered a much smaller market share in China competing against Baidu, so its threats to leave the country was not hinged on a major loss. In Korea and Japan, its an entirely different story and something I am sure Googlers will stay on top of - as the markets shift with the enhancement of mobile technologies.