Asian Technology

You don’t have to be a Net junkie to figure out where to go when you need to find a site on the World Wide Web: Google should be enough to satisfy most people’s searching needs. Search engines are conducting a search all their own. SEO companies Phoenix are working hard to grab competitive advantages by delivering to users the perfect query result. But what if you want to find something from the Guangzhou Daily or the fan club of Japanese teen idol Masahiro Nakai? A growing number of Asian-language search engines, mostly Japanese and Chinese, allow searches for sites that are hard to find with English only search engines.

(Displaying and working with Japanese or Chinese on your computer requires special software. Computer users who just want to surf can add Chinese or Japanese capabilities to most browsers through simple add-on programs downloaded from the Web.)

Yahoo! Japan, a joint venture between Yahoo! and Softbank, was officially launched in April. Though it models itself after the English-language Yahoo! in page design and subject categorization, the Japanese search engine has listings developed solely in Japan. The site is visited by an average of 1.6 million Internet surfers a day, says Makoto Arima, sales and marketing director of Yahoo! Japan.

There are more than a dozen Japan-based search engines, run mostly by large corporations such as Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, Sony, NEC and Fujitsu. Searches on these search engines can be done in either hiragana, a phonetic Japanese script, or kanji characters. A search for “sushi” in hiragana found seven matches on Yahoo! Japan, 13 on NTT’s InfoBee, 292 on NEC’s Net Plaza and 1,727 on Fujitsu’s InfoNavigator. The same search in kanji brought up 33 matches on Yahoo! Japan, 33 on InfoBee, 20 on Net Plaza and 929 on InfoNavigator.

WhatSite!, a Taiwan-based search engine set up in June, claims to have one of the most comprehensive databases of Chinese-related sites, in both Chinese and English, from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and non-Chinese-speaking countries. Calling itself “the 21st century Chinese Internet catalog,” WhatSite! accepts searches in English and Big5 Chinese characters (Big5 is the most popular method in Taiwan and Hong Kong of displaying and using Chinese characters on a computer).

Users without the software to display Big5 characters can browse WhatSite! using images containing Chinese characters and do searches by clicking on a specific subject displayed on the image.

Surfers using GB Chinese characters, the most popular format on the mainland, can point their Web browser to Richina Search Engine, run by software company Stone Rich Sight in Beijing. Searches can be done in Chinese in GB characters or in English.

In Hong Kong, search engines such as Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Index Server support searches in English, GB Chinese and Big5 Chinese. A search of the English word “revolution” on Index Server brought back 26 results while the same search on Richina yielded two results and WhatSite! scored three. And yes, politics does play a part. A search for “the Dalai Lama” found one entry on WhatSite!, three on Index Server and — not surprisingly -none on Richina.

WhatSite!, Richina and Index Server maintain separate directories for English entries and Chinese entries. When you type in a search statement in English, you only get English-language results in return. However, WhatSite! and Richina will give you English results along with Chinese results when you type in a search statement in Chinese.

Yahoo! Japan, possibly the most commercially aggressive of the Asian-language search engines, accepts so-called banner ads on its pages. Advertisers, now totaling 60, range from computer companies to auto makers to consumer-goods manufacturers.

Jacky Hung, staff engineer at WhatSite!, says his company is considering accepting advertising. Mr. Li says Stone Rich Sight is using Richina as an advertising tool for its own software products and doesn’t have any plans to solicit paid advertising.

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