Tencent takes on Baidu with news and search
Tencent has pushed into news feed and search functions in a direct challenge to Chinese search engine Baidu, as the country’s biggest internet group ramps up competition to keep users within single platforms. The 770m who use WeChat, the dominant social messaging app owned by Tencent, received an update on Wednesday placing the two new functions on the user interface. The news feed and search tools pull content only from within WeChat’s walls rather than from the open web, including updates posted by individual users called moments, corporate accounts and a huge collection of WeChat accounts used by newspapers and independent bloggers.
Even though articles published on WeChat have their own web pages, Baidu is blocked from indexing them. This means they do not appear in the company’s search results.
“We call it the ‘walled gardens’,” said Fang Xingdong, a free-speech activist and founder of ChinaLabs, a web research consultancy. “Users need to go to different platforms to search for content.”
The segmentation of China’s internet has been accelerated by the rapid rise of smartphone use, as consumers access the internet via individual apps rather than a search engine such as Baidu.
“People spend so much time on WeChat that the social feed and official accounts have become the main information resource for Chinese people,” Mr Fang added.
Tencent, Baidu and ecommerce group Alibaba, China’s three biggest internet companies, are increasingly venturing on to each others’ turf in the competition for advertising revenue. Baidu recently rolled out its own news feed to try to get users to spend more time on its app.
“The different interests of the big three companies make China’s internet more and more segmented,” said Xie Pu, a tech writer.
Alibaba initially blocked Baidu from indexing web pages for products sold on its platforms and still makes it difficult for links from its ecommerce Taobao app to be shared on WeChat. Some analysts believe Tencent will eventually provide WeChat users with full web search capability via its partnership with Sougou, another search provider.