A China Syndrome?

The Chinese is the most populace online community if not the most valuable online market. There are roughly half a billion Chinese people online with about 70% of those mobile users. There are a couple of interesting stories in the news from those markets which give us different insights into that market. China was a closed internet market for a long time and in many ways it still is. About a million years ago when I was working at a search engine company (as opposed to writing about them) we were approached by the Chinese government to put together a search for that market. This was in the early 2000s when China was even more frosty than they are today. We ended up no bidding the deal as the restrictions and limitations they wanted in terms of black lists and the like would have made the project a nightmare to execute and the whole thing just gave us the creeps. Fast forward a few years and Baidu is still the dominant search in China with nearly 80% of the search market. Google is a distant second with 15% which is actually quite impressive given that they officially bailed on China a while ago because they couldn’t handle the restrictions the Chinese government wanted to impose. Interestingly although China has gone at least as mobile as the rest of the world until recently Baidu’s mobile offering was slow and messy which is a problem when so much of your audience is mobile. They have just announced a new version which is supposedly much faster and more elegant and will eventually be fully cloud based.

That’s marginally interesting (I guess) but what I found much more interesting (and almost entertaining) are the recent arrests of several Baidu staff members for taking illegal payments to fix search results or delete posts about companies. Here in the US we are all horribly familiar with the kind of damaging nonsense the evil or vengeful are able to post about companies or people. On the web nobody knows you are a dog. The US search engines have somewhat de-emphasized results from these vandal sites like Ripoff Report but reviews and feedback have emerged as a key factor in so many ways. Although many sites have an appeals process for the wrongly maligned to appeal remarks negative reports remain a pain in the online neck. The recent Baidu scandal involved Baidu editors taking sizable cash kick backs to delete postings from the search. I’m not familiar enough with Baidu to know whether that means they are tweaking the search results (which I find unlikely) or they are being paid to remove deleterious reviews and comments from company sites which are the equivalent of Google Places or Yahoo local.  Either way it’s an interesting and perhaps inscrutable exercise in Search Engine Optimization or online Reputation Management.

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