Korea – Daum has decided to plug the real world into the Web, but it remains to be seen whether the ambitious project will allow the company to mount a meaningful challenge to NHN, the Korean Internet industry’s undisputed kingpin.
Daum, the operator of No. 2 Internet portal, Daum (www.daum.net), is about to release a new service built around a detailed photographic map of Korea, offering crystal-sharp views of the mountains and seashores, buildings and roads, and the sushi restaurant you reserved for dinner.
“Look at the view in front of this place,” said Kim Min-oh, who heads Daum’s local service team, pointing to a bird’s eye view of a seafront restaurant located in a leisure district in Jeju City.
Kim simply typed in the name of the restaurant into Daum’s search box and an interactive Web map of the surrounding area appeared on the screen.
With a double click, the graphic image is converted into high-resolution aerial photography, with the restaurant’s roof, driveway and the sea becoming impressively recognizable.
A click on the “street view” tab provides a panoramic, ground-level view of the neighboring area, taking the user on a virtual walk where it’s possible to rotate 360 degrees for a look around.
“This is clearly the best map of Korea (paper or electronic) ever made,” Kim said, saying that the new map service could be launched as early as late November.
“Google has been successful with Google Earth and Google Maps and is providing a street view for Japan and Australia, but in terms of resolution and user convenience, I think we are offering a better product than them,” he said.
Although company officials are reluctant to comment on costs, Daum is believed to be spending over 20 billion won to develop the new service, collaborating with SamAh Aerial Survey for the aerial photos and Pix Korea for the street-level images.
It took a year for Daum to build the database, which covers virtually the entire country including Seoul and the neighboring Gyeonggi Province areas, the six metropolitan cities and Jeju Island.
Daum’s map will provide a resolution of 50 centimeters per pixel, which is comparable to the latest version of Google Maps. However, Kim said the company is already capable of enhancing the quality to 25 centimeters per pixel, although the Korean law, which sets the limit at 50 centimeters per pixel, prevents them from doing so.
Daum hopes that its new map service will be enough to revolutionize the entire platform of its Internet services and win some traffic back from NHN, the operator of top portal, Naver (www.naver.com).
The competition between the country’s two biggest Internet companies has become as lopsided as a Pyongyang election, with Naver hogging nearly 80 percent of all search queries, leaving Daum and others to live off table scraps.
Son Kyung-wan, Daum’s chief product officer, said there was pressure to deliver a mind-blowing product that would be hard for Naver to emulate, and thus restore the company’s reputation for innovation.
Son said the map services will be integrated into virtual all of Daum’s product lineup, including e-mail, “Cafe” Web communities, “Tistory” blogs and real-estate search services.
The availability of the high-resolution images in e-mails and user-generated content like blogs will bring changes to the daily Web experience and expand opportunities for new business models, Son said, although Daum now is more focused on fine-tuning the service than monetizing it.
The map services will also allow the company to find a larger market in mobile communications, with the use of smart phones and other data-enabled devices expanding.
Kim Jee-hyun, who heads Daum’s mobile task force team, said the company has already optimized its map services for iPhone, Apple’s iconic handset that could be released through KTF as early as December.
“It was certainly a difficult and expensive service to launch, and sustaining the quality of the maps through upgrades will certainly require a lot of effort and money, but this is why it’s so crucial to get a head start,” said Son, who says the map service will generate revenue from next year.
“There is no doubt that location-based services will be a key part of the core competitiveness of Internet companies in the future, especially with the Web now moving quicker toward mobility,” he said.
According to Son, Daum plans to generate about 100 billion won from location information services by 2012, providing enterprise versions of its virtual maps to companies in geographical information systems (GIS), location-based services (LBS) and telematics.