Posts Tagged ‘web’

The Curious Case of Baidu’s Search Engine for China’s Senior Citizens

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Or, Baidu done it in the datacentre with the walking frame.

Yesterday the Chinese internet search giant announced its brand new product, 百度老年搜索 (literally “Baidu Senior Citizen Search”).  An exciting day for increasing numbers of Chinese silver surfers!

Baidu LogoAccording to Baidu, China has around 14 million silver surfers. They’ve been dubbed silver surfers, of course, due to hair which is often rendered silver-white by the flowing years, however they still like to keep up with current technology.  A great many of China’s silver surfers have been enriched by new China’s economic miracle and the part their kids’ have played in it, so to marketers, they’re actually a pretty interesting consumer segment.

At the launch of “Baidu Senior Citizen Search” Li Yanhong, the company’s CEO said “Despite their age, our parents, just like us, need to absorb information from the web. As the search engine provider which owns 90% of Chinese market, we must offer more convenience to silver surfers. So [Baidu] decided to make a new search engine, specially designed for them. Aside from information, the new engine is utterly easy to use, enabling our fathers and mothers to surf the web without relying on a mouse. Meanwhile, considering there are 14 million silver surfers in China, it’s quite a remarkable market.”

[Illuminant's summarized translation - read the original Chinese here]

Okay. Great idea, Baidu.  China now has a search engine to specicially serve retired netizens.  Lets now leap into this modern-as-tomorrow future and see how the service works!

Hmm. The new search engine is a little bit hard to find. It seems to us that it can only be visited from a small text link on the front page of Baidu.com. A single click took me to a yellow-page with very, very, very huge fonts. The big font is a good idea (well, a no-brainer, actually.  What else does the specialist search engine provide?  Somewhat disappointingly, we couldn’t find anything innovative, or even new.

Firstly, a yellow web-page is nothing new to Baidu. Years ago the company acquired a catalogue (name: hao123) of the most frequently visited websites to help web starters who are not yet familiar with a real search engine (this, of course, was originally a Yahoo! innovation back in the 20th century). The new Baidu “search engine” for silver surfers looks pretty much the same as hao123, only with a ton of stuff for youngsters removed. The catalogue includes weather, tourism, hospitals, traditional arts, senior citizen communities, web portals, and so on. But… despite the convenience of a heirarchichal link aggregation, is this by any standard a “search engine”?

At the top, beside the Baidu logo, there is a textbox emphasizing the facility of a search engine. The textbox, like everything else, is also extra large, of course.

According to Mr. Li’s speech, one might be led to believe that there is a great deal of new code behind the page to generate optimized and carefully selected entries to silver surfers. So, we tried the new engine with something tricky: a Mandarin-Chinese slang term in current use amongst China’s young netizens. This slang term is definitely not something silver surfers would be interested in. We expected that the search results would feature an explanation of the term, and several news stories addressing the rise of netizen slang. OK, type the term, click the button, and see what we’ve got here.

If my computer works all right, what I’m look at now is a very long list of the term being put into normal daily usage. Say, if I’m born long before the information era of China and only got to use computer in my old age, this list will confuse the hell out of me. Out of curiosity, I tried the term in the regular Baidu search engine. And… what the… I’ve got a completely identical list here.

Our inexpert conclusion is: except for super large fonts, the “new” search engine is nothing but a magnified version of old stuff. We’re scratching our heads.  Why would a good company bother spending money on creating buzz for an advanced new technology solution which could be easily replaced by buying my Mom a pair of glasses?

Interestingly, we’ve found that the new silver surfer’s “search engine” is (at the time of writing) totally advertisement-free. To be fair to Baidu, this is actually a pretty good thing: presumably China’s silver surfers possess minimal internet security understanding as well as high trust in new technology.  Silver surfers would be easy targets of the Chinese web’s ubiquitous phishing-attacks, Trojan horses, and virus-bearing malware.

Perhaps fault lies with us, for expecting too much of a leading Chinese web business.  After all, CEO Li did promise “a new search engine, specially designed for them”, and no court or judge would penalize Baidu for its “over-promise under-deliver” approach to this “new product” launch.

As a marketing agency working in China, we really shouldn’t be surprised at any part of yesterday’s buzz-creating activity, except at the lack of advertising on the “new search engine”.

Baidu, we’ll gladly be proven wrong.

Article by Illuminant’s Head of Research, Kane Gao

SARFT again visiting harshness on China’s video sharing sites

Friday, April 3rd, 2009
SARFT headquarters in Beijing

SARFT headquarters in Beijing

Last year China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) caused a great deal of panic among the mainland’s video sharing websites by threatening to kick any operator without an online broadcasting license off the intertubes. Eventually, every video sharing website had a license granted, and the initial climate of panic tapered off and quietly died.

Yesterday, SARFT again unleashed its power, announcing a new set of regulations to further govern China’s online video sharing sector. Under the new rules, all films, TV series, cartoons and documentaries must obtain offline broadcasting licenses before being transmitted via internet media (and yes, mobile networks are included), even if the broadcaster has already licensed necessary copyrights from distributors. For the full story please refer to this helpful overview from Pacific Epoch, who we beleive scooped the story.

The new regulations instantly caused another panic amongst China’s netizens. Unlike YouTube, which relies on short video clips and user-generated content, its many Chinese clone-sites mainly live on (pirated) films and TV series. Obtaining an offline license for every single film would take more time than is left until the heat-death of the universe. Needless to say, offline licenses are based on the correct licensing of copyrights, which in many parts of the Chinese web do not outweigh the low cost/huge profit charms of piracy. If SARFT is really serious about this, then the whole business seems to be pretty much terminated.

But from my perception, we don’t have to be too serious about SARFT’s latest moves. Parallel with the new regulations, there is something called the “haven principle” in the whole Chinese internet sector (including video sharing). The principle works like this: an online broadcaster does not have any responsibility if any user-uploaded content causes trouble (such as violation of intellectual property rights). So long as the offending content is simply removed from the website, on notification, every problem is solved in a civilized and harmonious way.

This “uploaded-protested-notified-removed” principle has saved many Chinese video sharing websites from lawsuits they absolutely could not afford to defend.

From our perspective, it seems pretty obvious that in pursuit of almighty page-view, a large number of “helpful users” who upload tons of  stuff on daily basis are actually website editors in disguise, taking advantage of the haven principle to dodge ethical, legal and moral responsibilities. Personally I’ve formerly worked for a market-leading WAP site whose main business is was to “share” pirated (dumped, cracked, regged) mobile phone games totally free of charge, much like video sharing websites. An eye-catching disclaimer was placed on every download page saying “all content is uploaded by users, thus the provider has no responsibility for violation of intellectual property”. But guess what? They didn’t even have a user upload interface. All editors worked on a 8 hours/6 days schedule to collect, upload, and organize pirated games. The WAP site even established different servers and purchased different domain names for file storage to enhance the impression that all those games were located by its fictional “super advanced game search engine”. Gaming, indeed.

Sorry for spinning off topic.

Back to China’s haven principle. Under the user-upload umbrella, China’s video sharing websites do not have to pay anything for violating SARFT’s new regulations. On the other hand, SARFT has to manually monitor every single video on each website to check if there’s any illegal broadcasting activity. In a country of 243 million broadband users, this is a monstrous job. And considering the normal slow speed for takedown notices to be generated, there will be enough time for users to have their fun and for websites to gain almighty page-view between the video’s upload and a demanded removal (if it ever gets found and put on notice).  Of course, even if an offending video upload is terminated, another “helpful user” will upload the video again under a different URL.

Some observers believe that SARFT should be extra-careful in the implementation of its new regulations. Practically all YouTube clones in China are launched, nurtured and generate page-view via pirated content. An overdose of administration may easily snuff the whole business out, and we don’t beleive that China would want to deliver this unto the nascent sector (which employs thousands) given the current condition of the world economy.

Disbelieving?  If you’re feeling in an IPR-violating mood, you might enjoy the 213th episode of popular Japanese cartoon Bleach, uploaded on April 1st 2009, which does absolutely not have an offline broadcasting license. Thanks, Tudou.com, for sharing!

NB: Imagethief’s view, well worth reading, is here.

Article by Kane Gao, Illuminant’s Head of Research

Our new website goes live today

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Thanks to the hard-working and creative efforts of our internal website team (principal of which are our Art Director Olivia Ye, Account Manager Melanie Ho, and Corporate Services Manager Anja Knass) we launched our new website today.

In an effort to get it up fast (our new branding is only a few months old) we opted for Flash/Shockwave for version 1. Hence, it is simple but complete.

In the 9 years that I’ve been responsible for client’s interactive marketing work, I’ve learned to keep the number of features limited to clearly defined version releases. Feature-creep invariably means death (or permanent disability) to an interactive project. Always best to get an achievable target up in the time and budget allocated, then to re-scope and add more features as stand-alone projects.

Going forward, we’ll be launching our matching Chinese language version, followed by a re-write in Web 2.0 technologies du jour. We may expose part of our internal media database at some stage, and we’ll be sure to keep this blog updated with our observations on doing PR and strategic comms in China and Hong Kong.

Article by Illuminant’s founder, Simon Cousins

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