Can Google conquer East Asia? by Jay Gutman

Here’s a hint. If your Korean, Chinese or Japanese boss asks you to come home and fix his washing machine, you better go to his house and fix it. So in China, Japan and Korea, you better have the kind of search engine that can direct you to an authoritative source with clear, simple, easy to follow, complete instructions on how to fix washing machines, because if you fail to fix your boss’s washing machine, chances are he’s either going to be abusive to you for at least a couple of months, or perhaps your boss is going to fire you.

goog01_400So here’s the trick. East Asians tend to make “encyclopedic” kind of use of the internet when Westerners tend to be more disorganized. Google in East Asia is considered speculative and disorganized, something East Asians specifically detest. If an East Asian asks you a question, he wants a clear, short, correct, direct answer. Not a speculative one, not something along the lines of “I think it would be possible that but I could be wrong.”

So first thing East Asian search engines do is categorizing every single webpage. It’s either a blog or a question and answer page or a forum or a newspaper article or a government page or a business page. Second of all, East Asians believe in “correct answers” and provide a deluge of “correct answers to questions” on their web pages. Third, East Asians don’t believe in wasting material, and keep a lot of their archives. Fourth, East Asians all tend to have similar names (you will find something like 5 or 10,000 Koreans called Lee Min Ho”) which make searches about individuals complicated, and most individuals have a “web name” they use in their email addresses and in forums.

Then there’s the fact in East Asia that some web pages can opt out of being found on search engines. A lot of companies or individual pages don’t want any trace on search engines. Then there’s the fact that in East Asia completely different software is used for webpages, a more secure kind of software, the kind that doesn’t even make your web page have a url.

Then there’s the fact that the government in East Asia participates on information sharing. If you look at a Chinese, Japanese or Korean map on the search engines, you will find every single business in every single street corner in the country, and every single business in the country will have its own page, and in some cases reviews. Since street names are not common in East Asia, and streets tend not to be parallel, a map is a must in East Asia, and tends to provide the names of every single neighboring business to make sure you find the address.

Then there’s the language factor. A Chinese character can have different pronunciations in China, Japan and Korea. That means you could be looking for a coffee shop called “Mi Ni” and end up with all kinds of search results ranging from people called Mi Ni to districts that have that name to barber shops or factories or supermarkets that have that name with those Chinese characters.

This is why East Asian search engines tend to break down the search engine for users, and why search engine pages are so crowded in East Asia. If you open a search engine page in East Asia you’ll find something like “if you’re looking for a business, click here” and “if your boss just made an unreasonable demand and you need to fix something of his, click here” and “if you’re feeling pain and need to speculate on the medical nature of your pain, click here.”

East Asian search engines tend to calculate the searches of the day, and provide nudges to what has been searched and what pages were searched for the day. On a cold day, many people might type “sore throat” and the East Asian search engine will suggest you links to pages on sore throats, while if one day a singer is found to be dating an actress and that’s what everyone is searching for, the search engine will provide links to articles on that event, without you having to ask. If it’s an extremely hot day and East Asian bosses are asking their subordinates to fix the air conditioner, “fixing an air conditioner: the step by step guide” will be suggested as a page. On February 15, the day after Valentine’s day, a suggested page might be “my girlfriend is giving me the silent treatment, what should I do to comfort her?” to which the answer should of course be “her girlfriends are all bragging about the gifts they received from their boyfriends, and she feels offended by your gift.”

Another thing that must be found on search engines is business phone numbers and addresses, and that’s how you call that restaurant to ask them if they can look for your wallet because you think you dropped it there, or can ask a business to scan and email you a copy of the receipt of what you paid for by credit card on any given date and time.

A final feature of East Asian search engines is nationalism. China wants Chinese pages only, and wants non-Chinese pages to be clearly stated as such. Japan wants Japanese pages only, Korea wants Korean pages only, Hong Kong and Taiwan wants local pages only and non-local pages to be clearly stated as such. You don’t want to look for Mi Ni cafe in central Taipei and end up with results for a dozen Mi Ni Cafes in Hong Kong or Shanghai.

That’s a lot of work cut out for Google, and you can wish them good luck.

Ovi magazine

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