Baidu is the largest search engine in China with approximately a 56 percent share of the Chinese search market. In English Baidu is pronounced BY-doo. The search engine was founded in 2000 by Robin Li and Eric Xu. Robin Li is credited with developing the search algorithm used at Baidu. Li went to graduate school at the University of Buffalo where he began a PhD program but left with a Masters degree. While he was there he studied computer science. After leaving Buffalo Mr Li went to work for IDD Information Services in New Jersey where he developed a link-based search algorithm in 1996 for Dow Jones. That algorithm was called RankDex and later served as the technology for the Baidu search engine. After IDD Mr. Li moved on to to work at Infoseek, which was yet another internet search engine, where he worked until December 1999.
Baidu Is Link-Based
Robin Li was an exceptionally good student and excellent research scientist. He gathered knowledge from the ongoing dialog about link-based search that was going on among a small collection of American digital pioneers and devised a practical search algorithm. Li was part of that ongoing dialog and Google cited him as part of their early link-based research. Li developed his search algorithm while also helping develop software for the online edition of the Wall Street Journal. Li received a US patent for the RankDex technology.
In sizing up the internet in early 2000 Mr. Li said, “The US’s Internet search industry is only a newly discovered territory. We see vast untapped grounds in our home base and we believe there are still plenty of prizes to be claimed by the best players.” In January of 2000 Mr. Li and his business partner Eric Xu founded Baidu. By December of 2013 Mr. Li was ranked as the richest man in mainland China with a net worth of over $12 billion. Robin Li took what he learned in the US and carried it to his home country with great profit. Baidu, incorporated on January 18, 2000, and is headquartered in Haidian District in Beijing
Baidu has not evolved as far technically as other search engines. The Baidu algorithm is less sophisticated than US search algorithms. Baidu resembles these other search engines as they existed years ago. The key to the Chinese digital world is the language. Chinese is a pictorial based language and the keyboard has to be adapted to Chinese characters. The language difference is significant enough that it serves as a firewall between western companies and Chinese companies. Translation is not accurate enough to allow a western language based search engine to seem as if it is presenting Chinese. Behind this firewall Baidu has not had to develop against competition. Only wealthy search companies, like Google, could set up in China and compete, but when Google did that, they found government censorship problematic and moved to Hong Kong.
Baidu has expanded considerably into many other digital areas such as their wireless app store, their mobile search and free cloud storage. Baidu offers many other services and recently Baidu started a search service in Japan, which is their first move outside of China. Baidu has been very successful marketing its many services. The basic search advertising product is called Baidu Tuiguang and is similar to Google Adwords and Adsense. Like Google, Baidu uses a pay per click platform that allows advertisers to have their ads shown in search results pages and on other websites that are part of Baidu’s collection of companies.
Censorship And Chinese Search
The Chinese government blocks internet content that is deemed undesirable, such as foreign news sites, many Hong Kong and Taiwanese websites, pornography and websites with dissident political content. One of the easiest ways to execute this censorship is through search engine results. After all, if people can’t find these materials, for the most part, they can’t use them. Baidu is compliant with government censorship policy and thereby forfeits their opportunity to control the Chinese search marketplace. Baidu does control the largest market share of Chinese search for now, but when a persistent individual can’t find what they seek with Baidu what alternative do they have but to turn elsewhere?
In New York a group of eight writers and video producers used a U.S. lawsuit to challenge Baidu’s complicity with Chinese government censorship. The lawsuit claimed that as a complicit agent of the Chinese government’s censorship policies, Baidu was violating their First Amendment rights. At a court review in March 2014, U.S. District Court Judge, Jesse Furman ruled that censorship itself was a First Amendment protected form of free speech. According to judge Furman, “the First Amendment protects Baidu’s right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects plaintiffs’ rights to advocate for democracy,” The case was dismissed.
The way the digital cycle works, is that digital platforms, like Baidu, enter into online niches, like search, and attempt to control them. For now Baidu is successfully controlling and thriving in the Cbinese search niche. Other than there recent move to Japan, Baidu has not attempted to expand out of China and that is a weakness. Controlling a niche is done by controlling all the business angles that might eventually undercut a platform’s market share. By failing to compete in the larger global search market and by conforming to Chinese government censorship policies, Baidu risks long-term control of its home niche.