Chinese search giant Baidu is beating Google at its own game in China, but it’s playing by different rules
INGAPORE — “I get it,” the Western man says, speaking heavily accented Chinese. Surrounded by beautiful Chinese women in the video advertisement, he grins with self-satisfaction.
Nearby, a suave Chinese man dressed in scholar’s robes laughs. “You don’t necessarily get it,” he says. As the ad unfolds, the Chinese scholar proceeds to humiliate the Westerner, mocking his poor Chinese-language skills. In the end, the women flock to the scholar’s side, and the Westerner is left confused, alone and humiliated.
“Baidu understands Chinese better,” the Baidu.com Inc. advertisement says, needling the company’s former investor and current rival, Google Inc. And statistics seem to bear that out: Baidu accounts for 62% of the country’s search traffic, up from 52% in 2005, according to the China Internet Network Information Center in Beijing. For Western companies trying to establish a Web presence in China, understanding how Baidu plays the game could be key.
Founded in 2000 by Robin Li and Eric Xu, two Chinese technology executives who once worked in the U.S., Baidu has grown to become the most visited Chinese-language Web site in the world. In the process, it has also earned the rare distinction of being one of few companies to have competed toe-to-toe with Google and won, though some would say the playing field was tilted.
Baidu’s detractors claim that the company abets music piracy and pads the top of its search results with paid listings. But the success and popularity of the company’s search engine is undeniable.
A large part of Baidu’s early success is attributable to its MP3 search engine, which came just as MP3 players were taking off in China. Lawsuits brought by music companies claiming that the search service infringes on their copyrights haven’t slowed Baidu’s progress.
The company’s rise occurred as the Chinese government was growing increasingly concerned about Google’s search engine.
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