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Combatants Getting Down and Dirty in Chinese Search Wars

Hello, and welcome to an ECT News podcast. My name is David Vranicar, I’m a reporter for ECT News and today we’re going to be talking with Charlie Custer, who is an editor at Tech In Asia. As the name suggests, Tech In Asia covers the goings-on of the tech world throughout Asia. They are on Twitter @TechInAsia and their posts are also picked up by Yahoo News.

Today we’re going to be talking with Charlie about the ongoing spat between a pair of Chinese search engines — the dominant incumbent, Baidu, and a newer search engine, Qihoo, which has launched recently and which has caused some waves in the Chinese search engine world.

Listen to the podcast (19:25 minutes).

ECT News: So, Charlie, first off, thanks for taking the time to chat. I appreciate it.

Charlie Custer: My pleasure.

ECT News: Before we get into what exactly is going on between Baidu and Qihoo, I’m wondering if you could start by kind of breaking down the Chinese search engine landscape. In the US it’s kind of Google and then everybody else, but Google for a variety of reasons has had trouble gaining traction in China and they really don’t have the same presence over there. So if you could, start by telling us how the search engine market works in China and who the main players are.

CC: Sure, well, until a few weeks ago it was basically the same thing but just replace Google with Baidu. After Google sort of pulled out of China a couple years ago — and they do still operate their, a Hong Kong-based search that has about a six percent share of the search market — China’s search is pretty dominated by Baidu. I think it has 70-plus percent — this was before the Qihoo Search thing came out — market share. And there are a couple little competitors…there are a couple government-sponsored ones that nobody uses because they’re terrible.

Search Wars

That was kind of it. It was basically just Baidu and some other people that no one paid attention to. And then Qihoo360 launched their new search engine feature just last month and so then that has suddenly taken a 10-plus percent piece of the market almost instantly, and almost all of that came from Baidu — so Baidu saw about a 10 percent drop….

Qihoo has a browser and they kind of parlayed the success of this browser into this search engine.

ECT News: Is that the main difference between Qihoo and previous competitors? You mentioned that there have been myriad little guys who have tried to compete with Baidu. Is it the browser that kind of enabled Qihoo to have this fast start?

CC: Yeah, because I don’t think people were really intentionally using Qihoo’s search instead of Baidu. I think people are just used to typing searches into the URL bar of their browser. For me, I use Chrome, so when I type something [in the URL bar] I get Google’s results. That’s just how I search. The same is true in China: A lot of people have gotten used to searching that way.

So with the 360 browser, which a lot of people use — when they launched the [search engine], instead of using Baidu, 360 Search is the default for that. And then you’ve just searched on this new search engine. And it’s not like you made a conscious choice to do that — you were just using their browser.

That’s what started happening, and if you get the results you want, there’s really no reason to stop doing that.

Suspicious Results

ECT News: You mentioned the results — I’ve read on Tech In Asia and elsewhere that the results that people get from Qihoo360 versus Baidu are strikingly similar. Is this fishy? Are people suspicious that Qihoo is just ripping off Baidu’s algorithm? What’s the debate there about the similarities in the results?

CC: Yeah, people are definitely suspicious. And I’ll preface this by saying that I did some comparison searches myself on the two and there are definitely similarities, but I didn’t see anything that was just outright ripping off Baidu. And the similarities are the sort of thing — to a certain extent you’d expect there to be similarities if the results are good, so I don’t really know how much copying there is.

But the reason that people are suspicious about it is that Qihoo has a reputation as just scummy — the term that Chinese people use a lot is similar to hoodlum or gangster, so they are a hoodlum company or a gangster company. And part of that is their CEO. He has a big mouth, he likes to get in fights with people in social media and the press, just talking s*** about other companies and other products.

And Qihoo is also always getting caught doing sketchy things. A lot of people think their antivirus software is basically a virus, and that’s because [the antivirus software] blocked QQ, this big instant messager that everybody uses but it is offered by a competing company. So Qihoo has built this reputation of being a bunch of scumbags, basically, so I think that whenever they do anything new, there are going to be people saying, “This looks kind of fishy.” That’s part of it.

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