Domestic Search Engines and the Diffusion of the Internet


  • Sung Wook Ji, Assistant Professor, Media Communications Division, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea


Previous studies have attempted to identify key factors in Internet development across different timespans using various sources (such as OECD, EU, and/or ITU countries) and statistical techniques. These studies, many times in the line of cross-country digital divide of the Internet diffusion, cover the field of economics to mass communication and psychology. Key factors that such studies have considered include income, education level, population density, urbanization, broadband price, degree and type of competition, computer penetration, mobile penetration, amount of online content, and stage of broadband diffusion, among others.

In this study, we add one more important factor in the line of previous Internet diffusion research: we examined the contributions made by domestic search engines to the diffusion of the Internet. Compared to transnational global search engines, notably Google and Bing, a few domestic search engines such as Baidu in China and Naver in South Korea typically generate higher-quality domestic search results. Such a search engine usually connects users with localized content written in the country’s official language(s), resulting in higher search relevance. It also generates private databases with more localized content, including knowledge-sharing services that are better suited to local consumers. Thus, Internet user who have domestic search engine could use more Internet than the others who have not domestic search engine. In other words, the improvement in quality of search results by the domestic search engine(s) may increase the domestic Internet user base. It means, the country which have domestic search engine could have more internet users with their experience with it.

This study empirically shows how domestic search engines positively affect countries’ Internet diffusion. To do so, we construct a country-level long-term trend dataset of more than 200 countries using information gathered from ITU’s The World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database (The WTI database). The WTI database includes the trends in Internet penetration. For the purposes of this study, the WTI data then was matched with the variables in this study, such as the existence of a domestic search engine of a country, domestic language, income, population density, education, development levels of countries and other country-specific characteristics that affect the diffusion of the Internet. We then compare the patterns of the Internet diffusion in each country that has its own domestic search engine.

Our preliminary analysis indicates that the development of a domestic search engine leads to Internet development: that is, a country with its own domestic search engine platform(s) has greater Internet penetration than a country without such a platform.

The benefits of domestic media industries are of particular importance to scholars and policymakers. The results of this study suggest that by facilitating the production of local content and mirroring local preferences, domestic search engines may create tangible economic value for the domestic online content markets, while simultaneously adding intangible cultural value as previously discussed. More broadly, we speculate that the presence of domestic search engines may challenge Google’s monopoly over the search engine market and create room for countries to exercise increased economic autonomy in the global media marketplace.

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