Baidu to invest RMB 1 billion in mini-program development

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Chinese search giant Baidu has launched an RMB 1 billion (around $140 million) mini-program fund targeting startups and developers to accelerate the construction of its mini-program ecosystem.

The innovation fund will be used to design and host open online courses and seminars, as well as offline workshops catering to developers. The company plans to assemble a team of mentors that will coach budding mini-program developers, Shen Dou, vice president of the company said at the launch event in Beijing, reports NetEase Tech.

Chinese tech giants are aggressively exploring the potential market for mini-programs. Companies including Tencent, Alibaba, and ByteDance have incorporated the feature into their apps.

Initially created for WeChat, mini-programs are lightweight alternatives to apps, though they run inside existing applications on a user’s mobile phone. They aren’t required to be downloaded. According to  WeChat, the company unveiled more than 580,000 mini-programs in 2017 alone.

Baidu launched its Smart Mini Programs initiative in July and began accepting applications in September, allowing developers to create their own mini-app and submit it through the platform’s official web portal.

A number of mobile apps, including Baidu Tieba, Bilibili, iQiyi, Kuaishou, Moji Weather and Chinese Calendar, have joined Baidu’s open-source alliance. These apps plan to collaborate with Baidu to bring the mini-program feature to their users.

“We have received favorable feedback from users, developers, and our network partners,” Baidu CEO Robin Li said during this year’s third quarter earnings call, talking about its mini-programs. Last month, the company claimed to have over 150 million monthly active users using its Smart Mini Programs.

“It is harder now for startups to acquire users.” Chen Chao, CEO of Chinese app data provider QuestMobile told TechNode, “However, in the next stage of China’s mobile internet market, great opportunities can be found still in a variety of newly developed use cases, especially those derived from mini-programs.”