Global Search Wars Escalating..(Again)

Search is important, anyone still harboring any doubt need do nothing more than look at some of the bubbling and breaking search stories circling this week. Clearly several parts of the EU hate, hate, HATE Google and all its works…and unsurprisingly the French are leading the charge. I have commented on this battle a couple of times recently, for a while media owners have been railing against Google taking their content for free and monetizing it by serving ads on results sets. In a very French way they want the government to levy a news tax on Google and in return Google is threatening to stop indexing all French content. Google boss Eric Schmidt met with the French government and a bunch of EU publishers to discuss this issue this week. It strikes me that rather than escalate to an all out war the French publishers might do what the Brazilian ones did a few months back. They effectively blocked Google from indexing their content…if searchers want new content they are forced to go to the publisher’s sites and enjoy the ads displayed on the publisher instead of the ads displayed by Google. If the Brazilian publishers are to be believed this change had only a minimal impact in over all traffic…so maybe the French should try that out and see if it works for them too. The other weird war still on a slow burn is behind the Great Fire Wall of China.

China has been growing by leaps and bounds with Baidu as the market leader. Back in August an anti virus company Qihoo 360 launched a search on the back of the enormous exposure they already have through their antivirus products. This pretty much overnight captured 10% of market share (is anyone at McAfee taking notes?). A slanging match has ensued with companies getting more agitated and trying more and more edgy things to get back at each other.  In any event in a statement on Thursday the Internet Society of China supported by all the major search providers in China committed themselves to place nice and  “encourage innovation and create a fair competitive environment” and perhaps ominously to “stop online rumors” by beefing up real identification of people posting online. This is clearly an attempt to put the rumor genie back in the bottle. There have been multiple cases lately where some pretty damaging stories have been circulating anonymously about some major Chinese political figures.

The Iranians continue work on an Islamic web which returns results only from the Caliphate of the 7th century, the Chinese want to stop online rumors and the French would rather the whole Internet thing just go away…It would be more effective to try to clean up after Hurricane Sandy with a bucket and mop….have a great weekend.

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.