Naver: Maximalist Digital Giant of Korea
When you ask anyone in Korea about anything, he/she will likely open up Naver app or access naver.com to search and tell you the answer. I once told me father to go to Google for me. Instead of typing google.com or accessing Google app, he opened up Naver app, and searched Google. Naver has become the staple for Koreans living in the modern-digital era.
Naver is a Korean online platform launched in 1999 by a former Samsung employee, Hae-Jin Lee. It is known for extensive and comprehensive search results feature. Naver dominates approximately 57% of the search market share in Korea, while Google’s share is about 33%. Some statistics claims Naver captures 70% of the market in Korea. It surely is an online monster created in Korea.
Unlike many other popular websites and applications out there in the market, Naver has taken an unique approach to gain and keep users.
By looking at the application and the website designs and the logo, Naver’s identity color is green. Naver even decorated its cafe in the headquarters with plants & trees and named it “Green Factory.” Color green is not the major characteristic of Naver that we should focus on. Naver boasts its heavily categorized interface. If you look at the top panel of the homepage, you can see 15 major categories provided by Naver: Mail, Cafe, Blog, Knowledge iN, Shopping, Pay, TV, Dictionary, News, Stocks, Real Estate, Map, VIBE, Book, and WebToon. And, there are also other categories hidden behind the “See More” tab.
Looking at the homepage and other landing pages, there are a lot of words, images, and contents. This is Naver’s success philosophy that is different from other popular websites and digital platforms. Go to Google and look at the homepage. We can see the famous Google logo in the middle with a search bar right underneath. Google follows a simplistic or minimalistic design philosophy to highlight its single core feature, search. Minimalism is the modern trend in various websites. Simple, neat, and clear call call to action (CTA) captures users’ eyes instantly and provides an ultra clear roadmap to websites. We can all agree that simplicity increases the likelihood of success in online business; however, Naver takes a totally different approach. Naver displays hundreds of information, images and features on the homepage to highlight its extensive capabilities. I would like to call this approach the maximalist approach; Naver tries to convey every single information to show that it can handle every single need of everyone. Everyone meaning everyone only in Korea. See, Naver is only available in Korea. This means Naver targets only Koreans. By looking at its target audience, we can tell that Naver is not even trying to compete in the global market; Google is not Naver’s concern.
I am going to focus on the idea of maximalism; how Naver attempts to solve every Korean’s need by providing as many information and services and showing as many information as possible at a single glance.
Naver raised over $500 billion in the first funding round, which was after IPO, and its major/lead investor has been Miare Asset Global Investments, one the of major financial institutions in Korea. Furthermore, Naver has made over 54 investments, or 26 lead investments. With a major funding from Mirae Asset Global Investments and by making continuous investments, Naver has been able to stand strong to be the dominant search engine platform in Korea.
I asked 20 friends who know Naver this simple task: “describe Naver in one word or phrase.” Surprisingly, 16 out of 20 said the same thing: “Korean Google.” Besides 16 friends of mine, many people out there think Naver is the Korean Google, and that is not entirely wrong. Google provides a plethora of services. This goes same for Naver. Google dominates the search engine market in the United States. Naver also dominates the search engine market in Korea. But if you dig into Naver and play around with it, you would figure out why Naver is not the same as Google. Google’s strategy is quite different from Naver’s. Google aggregates contents from other sources and display them on each landing page. This makes Google the perfect digital tool to gather diverse information created from all over the globe. Unlike Google, Naver does not focus on aggregating contents from other websites; contents from other websites can be seen if you scroll down to the bottom of Naver’s landing pages. Naver’s top priority is to produce its own contents and services and display them on the top.
As I mentioned in the Identity section, Naver’s homepage shows 15 major categories. Yes. Naver Blog, Knowledge iN (basically a Q&A section), Naver Cafe, Naver News, Naver WebToon (web cartoon platform), etc. are Naver-created contents and services. In these services, users can create their own blogs, make their own homepages, ask and answer each others’ questions, and create and view digital cartoons. Naver News is basically a news outlet solely operated by Naver; users can’t write their own news articles, but just like in many other news outlet platforms, users can leave comments on the bottom.
Why does Naver provide so many Naver-created contents and services? It is Naver’s way of indirectly telling its users that they do not have to use other websites at all to fulfill their missions or needs. Naver makes almost everything; therefore, it is confident that contents and services Naver created can meet every user’s demand. Introducing these diverse Naver-created services/categories on the top of the homepage is a maximalist approach to lure users. These services are also not entirely independent; they are interconnected. Here, users are “caught in Naver’s web” by spending time in Naver’s numerous interconnected services and contents (Tanjung, 2020).
So we know Naver is for every Korean. Correct, Naver targets every Korean. Even the youth. Actually, Naver created a separate platform for the Korean youth. It is called “Junior Naver.” Just like Naver’s homepage and other landing pages, Junior Naver follows the same maximalist philosophy; however, it focuses on children’s songs, animations, cartoon characters, and educational videos. You can tell that Junior Naver relies heavily on visual contents, not words. I believe this is an excellent approach as children focus more on videos and moving objects than on words and static objects.
Naver understands the gravity of providing such intense number of contents and services. As demand for media consumption every grows, Naver corresponded by hiring 900 software developers in 2021 (the largest number of employment in its history).
It is clear that Naver has its own ecosystem that can support and capture the entire Korean population. People can share their thoughts and communicate via Naver Blog. People can ask each other questions via Knowledge iN. People can view and even create web cartoons via Naver WebToon. Just like Apple Pay, Naver has its own transaction platform called Naver pay. Beyond that, Naver has its own shopping platform, Naver Shopping. Just like any other navigation services, Naver has its own map service called Naver Map. Naver also provides services of providing news and information related to investments: Naver Real Estate and Naver Stocks. Simply put, Naver has everything. This idea of having a plethora of services, which corresponds to the philosophy of maximalism, makes users to crave more contents and services that go beyond their need; therefore, users get caught in this web created by Naver’s ecosystem and consume excessive amount of time and money on Naver.
Expanding on Naver WebToon, Naver has. Been investing heavily on digital cartoon service lately. With K-Culture booming and the global pandemic making people crave different media consumption methods other than watching Youtube and Netflix, Naver has seen ways to profit more from WebToon. Just like any other companies’ financial decisions, the most common way of expanding businesses is acquisition. By May of 2021, Naver finished the process of acquiring Wattpad, an online platform based in Canada in which users can read and create web comics. Interesting facts: many Korean dramas and Netflix shows and movies are based on cartoons created on Naver WebToon. Hellbound, a Korean dark-fantasy religion-based television series introduced globally via Netflix, is based on a a cartoon created via Naver WebToon. By not only providing a method of media consumption, but also indirectly influencing the digital culture, Naver is vigorously pushing its maximalism philosophy, constantly producing new sources for user demand.
Naver has a unique SEO strategy. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it is a process of developing and improving a website traffic quality from search engines to landing pages. Basically when you see the result pages after you search something, SEO handles the process. Just like Google, Naver “recognizes entities, brands, and trending topics” (Taylor, 2019). Also, Naver understands users’ intent then lay out related information from other websites. Say, if you type “Covid,” you get number of people being infected, number of deaths, trend, etc. But Naver’s SEO is different from Google’s SEO in terms of algorithms. Naver uses two distinctive algorithms: C-rank algorithm and P-rank algorithm. Basically, C-rank algorithm focuses on contents created within Naver, and P-rank algorithm focuses on any recent popularities. By using these two algorithms, Naver achieves maximalism. It highlights its own contents and services like Knowledge iN and Naver Blog, it also aggregates some of the popular and recent high-demand contents from other sources to display as many information as possible to users while still emphasizing its ecosystem’s presence.
Korea is very strict with illegal information and contents. Naver does not share any information and contents related to pornography or human trafficking, etc. Simply put, nothing illegal is on Naver.
There has been a saying about Press Arbitration Law. Although rejected once, the government party is keep on pushing the bill to be passed. The bill’s intent is to filter out false information or news. This means giving a huge power to the government and the ruling party. Many criticize this bill as it dismantles the basic human right of freedom of speech. Some criticize Naver for biased news contents. They claim that Naver advertised conservative news outlets and their contents heavily. Naver’s stock price is declining due to government’s effort to regulate its contents and Korean IT platforms in general. Naver’s staple feature, “Real-Time Search” got banned on February 5, 2021 under the pressure of ongoing Press Arbitration Law debate. Real-Time Search showed top searches made by users. By looking at Real-Time Search, users could see which topics were trending.
Naver, by far, is the most popular online platform in Korea. It definitely goes beyond the definition of search engine platform; it creates culture and invites as many Koreans as possible. So is Naver a Korean Google? Well, Naver = Youtube + Quora + Google + Yahoo! + Apple Pay + other platforms. It really embodies the philosophy of maximalism.
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