Does Google have serious competition

China's Google: The copy beats the original

China's Google: The copy beats the original

The search engine giant Google is considering a return to China. But there is serious competition there: Baidu. The founder learned his trade in Silicon Valley.

There has been speculation for a few weeks whether Google will return to the Chinese market with a censored version of its search engine. In 2010, the Internet company withdrew from its business in China due to censorship regulations. The investigative platform “The Intercept” had revealed details about the project with the code name “Dragonfly”: According to this, Google is working on software that is supposed to censor sensitive search queries. The app should also link search queries with the phone number of the user. China is a huge growth market with 800 million internet users.

But the assumption that Google will find a “mown meadow” with censored software in the Middle Kingdom is wrong. Because there the top dog Baidu dominates the search engine market with a market share of 70 percent. Baidu boss Robin Li has already announced that his company will defeat its American competitor if it returns: "If Google decides to return to China, we are very confident that we will eliminate the player and win." The 50-year-old tried to use an analogy to the world of computer games for his pithy words.

Search engine developed before Google

But who is this aggressive player? “Google China”, as the search engine is apostrophized, is at first glance a harmless Google clone: ​​search window, hit list, website design - all of this is reminiscent of the model from California. Only the logo, the blue paw, the trademark of Baidu, is different (there was already a fake version of Google, in China, which copied the logo in the style of the Shanzhai culture and falsified the brand name). But under the optically similar chassis there is a different engine technology: Baidu has developed a high-performance algorithm over the years that, in contrast to Google, whose page rank algorithm arranges search hits according to the hyperlink structure, gives greater weight to the individual words in the context. The rules according to which commercial search engine optimization (SEO) works are correspondingly different. There are voices who claim that Google actually copied Baidu because Li developed a search engine called Rank Dex back in 1996 - Stanford computer scientists and later Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page published their legendary essay (“The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine ») only in 1998.

Bred to own competitors

It is an irony of history that the Chinese search technology came about with American know-how and money. After Li was rejected by top Chinese universities, he randomly sent applications to universities around the world and finally enrolled at the not exactly internationally renowned University at Buffalo for computer science. After graduating in 1994, he initially worked at Dow Jones and Company, where he developed a software program for the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, and switched to the Infoseek search engine in Sunnyvale in Silicon Valle three years later. With his colleague Eric Xu he worked on a search concept and founded his own company: Baidu. The contacts from Silicon Valley helped the company founders with start-up financing. Li returned to China with $ 1.2 million in seed money.

The Baidu founder, writes the journalist Stephan Scheuer in his recently published book «The Masterplan. China's path to high-tech world domination ”is the“ only technology entrepreneur who learned business in Silicon Valley and developed the core concept for his search engine himself instead of copying it from abroad ”. The story of Baidu didn't start in a classic garage, but in a hotel room across from the Beijing University campus. Another irony: Google initially invested five million dollars in the start-up - and thus raised its own competition.

Protectionism gives wings to Baidu

The competition between Google and Baidu broke out in 2005 when Google opened a store in Beijing and installed ex-Microsoft board member Kai-Fu Lee as China boss. Lee hired more than 100 engineers and linguists to improve the search results. Google's market share in the Chinese search engine market was 31 percent in 2009. Then politically motivated suspension and withdrawal followed. Search queries to from China had been directed to Baidu's site several times. Thanks to the protectionist network policy, Baidu advanced to become the market leader. Baidu poached in the territory of the competition and in 2014 recruited the then head of Google's development department Google Brain, the computer scientist Andrew Ng.

The personality was a bang: the computer scientist, who grew up in Singapore and whose parents come from Hong Kong, is considered a world-renowned expert in the field of machine learning, a mastermind. The tech blog “VentureBeat” jazzed the engineer up to become the “rock star of deep learning”. Ng left Baidu in 2017 to start his own company. But Baidu is continuing to pursue the artificial intelligence mission. The Chinese search engine giant is cooperating with corporations such as Bosch and Daimler on autonomous driving, although Google still has a lead in development here.

Mini translators as serious competition

Baidu is also growing competition from domestically: the online giant Alibaba has caught up with its mobile search engine Shenma, which it has integrated into its platforms, and has captured market share. Meanwhile, Baidu is trying to gain ground in the field of hardware: For example, the company has developed a “speaking translator” the size of a USB stick, which is intended to be an orientation aid for tourists abroad. The user only has to press a button and the device translates the voice input into languages ​​such as Chinese, Japanese and English. The 140 gram translator, which also doubles as a Wi-Fi router, may not be as powerful as a network speaker, but it is at least serious competition for Google Translate. The market is fiercely competitive. Should Google return to China, it shouldn't be a walk in the park.