Google launches I-mode site, mulls charging

ITworld.com –

TOKYO -- Google Inc. made its latest foray into the wireless Internet world on Tuesday with the launch of a site for users of NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s popular I-mode service.

The new site has been in beta test since late 2000 but is already, just like its big brother on the Internet, winning over a growing number of users despite not a single advertising penny being spent.

"It's been growing very fast," Larry Page, chief executive officer and co-founder of Google, told IDG News Service. "We told a few people about it after just rolling it out in beta form. Over the next week or two the usage quadrupled, and it has continued to grow at a high rate because they told their friends, and they told their friends, and people are finding it actually useful."

The quick success of Google on I-mode mirrors that of the Web search engine, which, without any advertising but a reputation for speed and accuracy, has steadily grown over the past two years to become one of the leading search engines on the Internet.

The new I-mode service allows users to search not only the I-mode universe but also the wider Web. "We have some technology to proxy the Web pages and to produce I-mode pages, so you can access anything," said Page. "If you really need a piece of information from the Web, you can get it."

Google is currently in talks with NTT DoCoMo about making the service an official I-mode site, which will win it a place on the company's main menu and allow it access to I-mode's combined billing system, which allows sites to charge for access and collect money through the user's telephone bill.

Charging users for access to the service is one thing the company is considering, said Page. "If you can charge for the service directly from users, that's a great thing. Actually, I think that would allow us to improve our service even more. I think there is a lot of potential for us to charge, and the values are so big I think that can be very significant."

Google is no stranger to Japan. The company launched a Japanese-language interface, along with those for Chinese and Korean, when it enabled its service to handle the double-byte characters used in the respective nations. It also signed a deal last year to provide search services to Biglobe, an NEC Corp.-owned Internet service provider and one of Japan's leading portals.

The I-mode site is Google's latest attempt to reach beyond the personal computer Internet, an aim embodied in the company's goal of providing Google to users of any device with more than 10,000 users.

Working toward this goal, Google last year announced a deal with Palm Inc. to provide search services to the MyPalm portal for users of the company's personal digital assistants (PDAs) and also inked deals with Pixo Inc. and Neomar Inc., which both produce WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) browsers, and with wireless portals such as Malaysia's E-Chilipadi.

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