Google unveiled its Knowledge Graph recently, which it coined the "first step in the next generation of search.",While it makes its way to my part of the world (Hong Kong), Baidu is claiming this is not new as the Chinese search giant has been dabbling in semantic search since 2009.
"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," said Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s director for International Communications in an email.
The idea behind Baidu’s box computing is to deliver directly into search results whatever users enter into the (search) box.
"We semantically interpret the query and give the user what he or she is looking for," he explained.
Kuo said people go to a search engine to find three basic categories of things: data, content, and applications.
For instance, if someone sitting in Beijing types "weather" (天气) into Baidu, the Chinese engine will serve up results of the weather in Beijing such as current weather conditions and forecast for the next few days through a partnership with weather.com.cn.
Another example includes typing in "Beijing Shanghai" (北京上海) where Baidu can infer that people are looking for travel information, so results will feature train schedules, ticketing info, plane flights and fares as well as structured data provided by travel portal Qunar, which it acquired last year.
Type in 87,989 euros (欧元) and Baidu’s first result, if the user is based in China, is to provide the function to convert to China’s RMB currency. (Refer to image below)
I tried entering “Lady Gaga Poker Face” and the top result delivered music videos of the artist from Qiyi.com without leaving the engine. It also suggests related music videos from Lady Gaga including the ability to share on Chinese social networks like Sina and Tencent Weibo (Twitter), Renren (China’s Facebook), QQ and Douban. Users based in China will also be able to use Baidu’s ting platform to click play to listen to the song or download for free.
Baidu has built a network of thousands of third-party developers that produced tens of thousands of apps, according to Kuo. So if you type “Angry Birds” into the search bar, the result will let you download the game and play immediately.
Typing calendar or the Chinese equivalent (日历) will serve up a virtual calendar as well as related calendar apps.
Although Baidu has the ability to monetize its in-search apps, it is focused on popularizing box computing and acclimating people to seeing these types of results for the time being. Currently, 20 million box results have been clicked on daily.
"We're very optimistic that this will be the form that search will take in the near future, but also that it will become the main way that people interface with the Web, whether on their PCs, laptops, tablets or mobile phones," Kuo said.
Chinese tech companies are often dismissed for being incapable of real innovation but Baidu is now ahead of Google in the core area of search itself, he noted.
Gordon Choi, head of web products and analytics at China’s travel portal Ctrip, agreed that Baidu is better than Google when it comes to localization in semantics, particularly for slang and colloquial expressions in China.
However, he is skeptical that Chinese companies deliver on their advanced technologies.
"Chinese companies do make a lot of noise in their own industries. It’s a good way to get attention but the problem is when it comes to advanced technologies, they rarely delivered. Note I’m in no position to ‘name’ companies that are doing this, but if you pay attention to the Chinese market, you will see many," he opined.
Baidu Looks to Southeast Asia
The joint lab named Baidu - I2R Research Centre (BIRC) will focus on Southeast Asian language resources, natural language processing, information retrieval and information extraction, speech information processing and multimedia processing. BIRC will focus on Vietnamese and Thai languages initially.
Baidu Makes Bold Shift in Priorities, Wants Larger Piece in Mobile
This month, Baidu has stepped up its mobile capabilities to launch a new smartphone Changhong H5018, which comes with Baidu Cloud OS based on Android and manufactured by Foxconn (same factory that produces Apple iPhones). The Chinese search giant has partnered with local telco China Unicom to distribute its handsets at less than RMB 1000 (US$158).
Features in Baidu Cloud include intelligent search, specialized Baidu applications and personalized location-based services. For example, Baidu integrated traditional search with voice recognition search and handwriting input to allow users from all walks of life use its Cloud based search experience to allow them to simply speak to search.
With Google pushing mobile in Mainland China, financial analysts think Baidu has mimicked Google’s strategy to focus on cloud computing and mobile software in relation to the Chinese engine’s recent smartphone launch.
The key question here isn’t whether Baidu is more innovative than Google, but that both companies are struggling to get its social piece right.
There has been speculation for a while now about Baidu partnering Facebook to launch a Chinese social network. Now with all the news of Facebook IPO and Mark Zuckerberg marrying his long time Chinese girlfriend, Priscilla Chan (is there a China connection here, if at all?) last Friday, it remains to be seen and probably worth a separate article on the search and social landscape in the country.
Love to hear your insights or conspiracy theories if Facebook will eventually announce a partnership with Chinese search giant Baidu in the coming months.