Outside of the Box

In response to the rise of vertical information seeking (such as Qunar and Ctrip for travel info, Dianping, Koubei for restaurant and local business search, Ganji, 58 for classified info lookup) and open platform initiatives by quite some prominent internet companies including Renren, Sina Weibo and Tencent etc, Baidu officially launched its Mobile Box Computing effort today in Beijing, which is aiming to offer search engine users with instant and intuitive access to all kinds of features which are originally “outside of the box”.

Baidu’s latest move is derived from its Box Computing rolled out couple years ago. Imagine this, while you’re searching for “Beijing Shanghai flights” or even just “Beijing Shanghai” on Baidu, rather than only returns links to outside websites with desirable information, how great it would be when Baidu features all flights from Beijing to Shanghai in a frame on the SERP(search engine results page), along with flight No., schedule, tickets info, and the ticket is only one click away to buy.

That’s what Baidu Box Computing is all about. Baidu founder and CEO Li Yanhong raised the concept two years ago at Baidu Technology Innovative Conference on Aug 18 2009. To put it simply, box computing serves Baidu users as a medium or an agent wherein users’ queries are analyzed and understand by means of semantic analysis, AI interaction, then the Chinese search engine can satisfies users with convenient feature according to apprehension of user intentions. Searching for weather, you get local weather forecast in a frame, looking up for hit TV serial, you get ready-to-watch video clips at one click away also in a frame.

Mobile Search is the New Opportunity

According to Analysys International, a leading market research firm in China, by 2012 there’re more than 606 million mobile users in China, even more than traditional internet user who access the internet via PC. That’s a market no one want to miss, or can afford to miss.

We can try to grasp mobile box computing from this, take weather app for example: we know that there must be some kind of weather apps in various kinds of app market, usually, we need to look up the weather apps in any market firstly, then install and run it before we can have access to latest local weather forecast in case of getting wet by unexpected rain. Baidu’s point is, with mobile box computing, all the information is one step away in a frame on its SERP, waiving all the hassles for users.

Incubating Ecosystem

According to Baidu, any 3rd party developers can submit innovative and useful apps to its box computing apps repository to address certain kind of users’ problems that lead the users to look it up on Baidu.

Also, Baidu is currently conducting a Web Apps contest with in an effort to encourage more app vendors to develop and contribute to the Chinese search giant’s box computing platform. Apparently, the more Baidu box computing platform can offer the more traffic and user it can retain.

We can try to understand Baidu’s latest effort in mobile internet from 3 aspects:

#1 Cloud Computing – the ongoing and disruptive trend is changing some of the internet infrastructure, initiating a cloud-based box computing platform do only good to Baidu’s search ecosystem by means of amassing thousands of various apps to complete Baidu’s search offerings.

#2 Vertical Information Seeking – Baidu to date is still the top choice for Chinese people who want to search something online, with a search market share of over 83.6% in China in Q4 last year according to iResearch, a Beijing-based market research company. But admittedly, the rise of vertical information service has taken over some of Baidu’s market. When people think of search some certain type of information, including flight info, listed rooms, local restaurants, they turn to some other service for help as we mentioned before, which undermines the premise of Baidu’s profitable business- traffic.

Baidu gains a lot from serving Chinese people as the information gateway and aggregator. Vertical information services can definitely bring about some pressure on Baidu.

Also interestingly, Google, the innovative and giant search engine hasn’t offer anything that come near to Baidu box computing.

#3 Open Platform – As Sina Weibo, Renren and Tencent partly or completely embrace open platform initiatives, Baidu couldn’t sit alone in the corner. Both box computing and mobile box computing are largely based upon Baidu Open Platform which consists of Baidu Apps Open Platform and Baidu Data Open Platform and hosts thousands of apps by 3rd party vendors. It’s Baidu’s solution to open platform strategy.

Listener of startups, writer on tech. Maker of things, dreamer by choice.

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