An article entitled “Google Gives Search a Refresh” was published last week on the Wall Street Journal. It talked about how Google is reinventing their technology to utilize more sophisticated ‘semantic search’ which will better understand the meaning of words to deliver more accurate results. Google Search executive, Amit Singhal, said Google search will look more like “how humans understand the world”. The articles author, Amir Efrati noted that “The changes to search are among the biggest in the company’s history.”

Now Director of International Communications of Baidu, Kaiser Kuo says “What they’re doing is essentially what Baidu has been doing since it launched its Aladdin open data platform in late 2009. Aladdin has evolved to become part of a grander strategy in search–a concept we call “Box Computing.” (Note: you may read our first coverage on this back in 2009, and we said it’s exciting and also confusing) So is Google the one copying Baidu?

China has long been notorious for using a C2C (Copy to China) Model by taking ideas and just making it Chinese, in a very unoriginal way. Baidu is often called ‘China’s Google’ has also, as Kuo says has just been seen as “a derivative and incapable of real innovation” but “is now out ahead of the most famously innovative company, Google–and that it’s ahead in the very core area of search itself.”

Kuo explained that “People go to a search engine to find three basic categories of things: Data, Content, and Applications. The idea behind Box Computing (the “box” refers to the search box) is that Baidu seeks to deliver directly into search results whatever users enter into the box. We semantically interpret the query and give the user what he or she is looking for.

For example, if someone sitting in Beijing types “weather” (天气) into Baidu, they’re probably looking for the weather in Beijing: current conditions and a forecast for the next few days. So that’s what we give them, courtesy of a partnership with If they type in “Beijing Shanghai” (北京上海), we can safely infer that they’re looking for travel information–train schedules and ticketing info, plane flights and fares. That’s what we give them, and more, through structured data provided by Qunar, which we acquired last year. Type in 87,989 euros (欧元) and you’re almost certainly looking for a conversion to RMB if you’re in China, so that’s what we give you. So that’s data.

With content, you could search for instance for “Queen Bohemian Rhapsody” and your top result, if you’re in China, will be from our ting! platform, where you can click play and be listening to the song–or downloading it. You can watch videos and read books directly in search results too.

Finally, apps: We’ve built out a network comprising thousands of third-party developers who’ve built tens of thousands of apps. Try typing “Angry Birds” or for more games, 小游戏 into the Baidu search bar. Or try 计算器 (calculator), or 日历 (calendar). There are many, many ways in which partners–or Baidu–could monetize these in-search apps, but for the time being we’re really focused on popularizing Box Computing and acclimating people to seeing these types of results.”

I don’t think what Google and Baidu in terms of search are exactly the same, but I believe the direction both Baidu and Google is moving into, is leveraging their massive indexation of data to cross-check  information then present it in a way that avoids users having to click on links to get to what they want. For example, if I type in ‘Beijing weather’ into Google and the same into Baidu, I immediately see the weather forecast above all search result links. This is very useful to me.

Even if Google ‘copied’ Baidu, the winners are really the users in their respective markets. If users of Google and Baidu get better search results quicker, I’m not sure it really matters who did what first. Of course it plays into ego and bragging rights, but in the grand scheme of things, I am sure all people gladly welcome better results.

In China, Baidu clearly dominates the market with 78.3% in the fourth quarter, compared to Google’s 16.7% according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s been known in IP world that Google is the master of copying with Chinese craftmanship.

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