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Naver Line makes inroads into mobile SNS market

Mar 19,2012
A year ago, Lee Hae-jin, chief strategy officer of New Human Network (NHN), the corporation behind Naver, Korea’s leading Web portal, was visiting Japan on business.

It was right after the devastating tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis. On television, images of those desperately trying to reach lost friends and family members were shown repeatedly. With phone lines overloaded, Lee saw smartphone users turn to social networking services (SNS) like Kakao Talk and WhatsApp to communicate.

“I was closely watching the television for days and realized how SNS were being used to communicate,” Lee said.

It was in this environment that the technology guru decided NHN should create its own communication tool that would appeal to consumer preferences while also allowing increased access to users via a semi-open platform.

Rather than requiring usernames, Lee wanted to design a system where users could communicate with each other through Facebook or Twitter IDs.

He immediately proposed the idea to NHN Japan. In April 2011, 15 members of a development team including Chinese, Korean, Japanese and American engineers created Naver Line, a smartphone application.

Naver Line is more open than other apps with similar features and has the ability to inform close friends and family members of the whereabouts of its users, if this function is turned on.

The team members were confident that the messaging system would be a big hit and started translating the app in their own languages. This international collaboration made it easy for Naver to launch the SNS globally.

The resulting boom in downloads took even the development team by surprise.

In just eight months since the company launched its SNS messenger, over 20 million smartphone users have downloaded Naver Line.

In Japan alone, current subscribers of the SNS application exceeds 8.8 million. This is the largest number of subscribers out of any other country that Naver Line is being serviced in, including Korea.

The company was initially only going to release its SNS messenger on the iPhone’s iOS platform, but decided to launch an Android version as well, since the Google operating system dominates the smartphone market.

In 16 countries including Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Turkey, Naver Line tops app store charts.

NHN reached the 20-million mark six months earlier than Kakao Talk, created by former NHN creator Kim Bum-soo, which has 40 million users worldwide.

This is a much faster downloading pace than Facebook or Twitter experienced, which both took more than two years for subscribers to total 20 million, although its important to note they emerged in a different market with fewer smartphone users.

Kakao Talk is currently Naver’s fiercest competitor in the SNS messaging market. The company, however, said it was confident in its fight with Naver Line.

“We welcome the competition but on the basis of service it will be difficult to overcome us,” said an official at Kakao Talk.


By Park Tae-hee [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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