A partnership with Google Korea (www.google.co.kr) will allow Yahoo! Korea (www.yahoo.co.kr) to provide YouTube (kr.youtube.com) video clips on its digital map services. / Korea Times File
By Kim Tong-hyung
Internet companies are competing to bring the real world to desktops, and usual suspects Daum (www.daum.net) and Naver (www.naver.com) have emerged once again as leaders of the pack.
This has global giants Google (www.google.co.kr) and Yahoo (www.yahoo.co.kr) joining hands in Web maps and local search services as they can ill-afford to allow their Korean rivals to extend their virtual duopoly into the new market.
Google Korea and Yahoo! Korea announced plans Tuesday to merge their key Web services over the platforms of their digital maps and other location-based services, hoping that the enriched applications would drive up traffic on both sites.
Under the agreement, Google sprinkles video clips from YouTube (kr.youtube.com) on Yahoo's map (map.yahoo.co.kr), while Yahoo interconnects its local search service, Gugi (kr.gugi.yahoo.com), with Google's map (www.maps.google.co.kr).
The changes will be made this month and the content sharing will be extended to the international version of Yahoo's Gugi services (global.gugi.yahoo.co.kr), the companies said.
Korea has been one of the few rare markets where Google and Yahoo have struggled to stay relevant, with Naver controlling around 75 percent of the search market and Daum gobbling up the biggest of table scraps.
The two global giants have been stressing the need for creating an ``open environment'' in Web services, obviously to compete with Naver's massive walled garden, and Google Korea managing director Lee Won-jin said his company's partnership with Yahoo is an extension of those movements.
``Korean Web portals have a reputation for their closed services, and this has been hurting innovation in the Korean Internet industry,'' Lee said.
``The sharing of content between us and Yahoo could mark an important first step toward an open Web environment in the Korean Internet sector and inspire innovation,'' he said.
Google revealed the Korean version of ``Google Maps'' in November last year, a free location service based on interactive maps and photo imagery.
The debut of the mapping service had been delayed due to Korean export restrictions on mapping data. The problem was solved after Google eventually agreed to operate the services on a Korean server.
Yahoo was the first portal here to provide photographic maps for the Web when it revamped its digital map service in 2007.
Bowing to Daum
Naver has long been the Internet industry's ``common enemy No.1,'' but at least for digital maps, Daum seems to be the beast to beat.
It's been a while since Daum was No.1 at anything, and the perennial industry runner-up is enjoying every minute of it.
The company's map service, introduced last month, is clearly blowing the competition out of the water with its crystal-clear views of landscapes, buildings, roads and the sushi restaurant you reserved for dinner.
Daum's map also provides ``Road View,'' which provides a panoramic, ground-level view of a given area, setting itself apart from rivals who rely on satellite imagery.
It is believed that the company spent over 20 billion won (about $14 million) to launch its map services, using airplanes for the aerial images and photo-mapping vehicles for the ground-level images.
Daum's laborious efforts are clearly paying off, with the Web portal's daily visitors doubling since the launching of the Web map, leaving company officials euphoric.
According to Korean Click, a market research company, Daum's Web map services lured more than 2.5 million visitors from Jan. 19 to 25, nearly doubling the 1.7 million visitors of the previous week.
In comparison, visitors to Yahoo's map service was just 530,000 and Google's numbers doesn't come close to even that.
Daum officials are confident that its detailed photographic map of the country will remain as an industry standard for years to come. The company's map provides a resolution of 50 centimeters per pixel, which is comparable to the latest version of Google Maps.
Daum says it is already capable of enhancing the quality to 25 centimeters per pixel, although Korean law, which sets the limit at 50 centimeters per pixel, prevents it from doing so.
``There could be no shortcuts in the competition for quality in Web photo maps,'' said Son Kyung-wan, Daum's chief product officer.
``From start to finish, we were setting our own standards in product development and quality. Honestly, we were never worried about whatever Yahoo or Google were doing,'' he said.
It seems clear that neither Yahoo nor Google can compete with Daum in fanciness or image resolution.
So joining hands to expand the features and content provided on their maps, making them the Web equivalent of the Swiss army knife, seems as the logical approach.
Gugi, which enables users to look for a business or service by typing in business descriptions, street addresses or postal codes, is well reviewed for its wealth of user-generated content such as ratings. This gives Google, which had been lacking user-generated content, a crucial base to work on.