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Baidu Advances From Student To Search Engine Sensei (Interview With Kaiser Kuo)

Baidu's, China's leading search engine has been overshadowed by Google globally for a good part of the first decade of the 21st Century. Now in its tenth year - even though it garners 70 percent market share in its native land, its been considered by most - as a follower, not an innovator. That was until this month. With the launch of Baidu's 'Box Computing Open Platform,' -  Baidu, the xue sheng becomes the sensei.

Kaiser KuoKaiser KuoToday, in interviewing Kaiser Kuo, Baidu's director of international communications, I was able to address how this new platform is considered by most analysts as a game-changer and where China's search engine giant sees itself moving forward with its other services.

The Box Computing Open Platform (BCOP) in its simplest form is a searchable applications library which allows third-party offerings like games, e-Books and software to launch directly on the Baidu search engine result pages versus another Web site. This permits both Baidu and the applications to engage with the visitor immediately without additional mouse clicks or potential drop-off. It also provides Baidu and the third-party developers with a new and lucrative revenue resource.

While a number of the apps in the library will be free, most e-Books and virtual products for social games come with a price-tag. The revenue share, similar to Facebook's gaming model will provide the search engine 30 percent of the revenues generated from the applications users pay for.

In questioning Kuo if he felt if this innovation would be a catalyst for other search engine to follow suit, he said, "I think the idea of working with third party resource providers, whether it’s just structured data or actual applications, is something that other search engines will inevitably want to do." Google, for instance "has already been providing some information directly in search results – things like weather – and I think it’s likely that other search engines will begin offering other resources directly on results pages as well," notes Kuo.

As Americans have experienced stateside with Google, search engine algorithms are always evolving to anticipate the needs of searchers - and for Baidu "it's a natural, logical outgrowth of our desire to connect people directly to what they're looking for online - and for developers - to provide them (greater) opportunities for conversions," asserts Kuo.

PopCap's Plants & ZombiesPopCap's Plants & ZombiesThe platform is engaged with developers in a number of vertical markets, such as PopCap Games in social gaming, Hexun,com, China's leading financial information group, New Oriental, China's largest private provider of educational services, Abang.com, the Chinese edition of About.com and leading matchmaking site Baihe.com. As for Zynga, Facebook's leading social game developer, Kuo indicated that while he can't offer specifics on their discussions, "suffice it to say that we've been in contact with many, many third-party developers both within and outside of China."

In a recent Wall Street Journal report, it was noted that developers feel that it's uncertain whether Baidu's platform will generate revenue in a market plagued with software piracy. "It’s clearly going to be a factor, but when many of these apps are being offered free on an ad-supported basis I don’t think piracy will be have a particularly profound effect," says Kuo.

Plus in the short term, Baidu is not overly concerned with monetization. "We're not focused on revenue generation from the platform in the short term," notes Kuo. "We're confident that if, as we anticipate, the platform has demonstrable value to our users, monetization will follow easily."

In regards to China's heavy push to embrace The Internet of Things initiatives (see my previous post, titled, "China's 'Internet Of Things' To Become Semantic Web Superpower?"), Kuo believes China will have a pivotal role in being the front-runner of Web 3.0 and the emerging Semantic Web. As far as how this next iteration of the Internet will affect Baidu, Kuo is confident that "it's inevitable that this will be of tremendous importance to our business and it only makes sense that we keep on top this as a company."

While BCOP is receiving all of the current media attention, the Baidu PostBar was one of Baidu's technological advancement that has been around since 2003. However, it seems to have slipped under the radar, at least in the Western World. Kuo says, "we do believe that it was one of Baidu's most innovative early products, even though it's often treated as just another BBS or Interent forum." It's uniqueness, however is in combining search and social networking.

"Over the years PostBar has added all sorts of multimedia capability (including the ability to imbed video), and we’ll continue to make sure that it stays current with technology. This ain’t the BBS you remember from the 90s!" Kuo adds. Because it joins users together with common interests in user-created social spaces, it actually dovetails nicely with the new apps platform, BCOP.

As far as real-time search, Kuo admits that Baidu doesn't currently have a direct connection to China's answer to Twitter, the Sina Microblog, better known as Weibo (pronounced Sina Microblog WeiboSina Microblog Weibo'way-bore'). "But that doesn't mean we're not working on real-time search in other important ways - and we'll likely be ready with an announcement before the year is out."

In regards to local search, at present Baidu's map offering integrates the geolocation of shops, hotels, restaurants, nightlife spots and other points of interest and continues to expand on both PC and mobile platforms. Baidu's map API also allows partners to enhance it local information functionality.

"Besides this, and I don't mean to be cagey," notes Kuo, "there are lots of other initiatives in the works that we'll be announcing in the next two quarters."

So, you can chuck the 'copycat' derogatory references or what some have labeled as being the 'fast follower,' Baidu at the ripe old age of ten has come into its own. It has now officially broken from the pack to lead in not only a country that garners the largest number of netizens, but also worldwide. No longer the 'grasshopper' to Google's Master Po, Baidu not only "seeks to know the answers, but to also understand the questions!"

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Ron Callari
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