The future of innovation at Baidu

Baidu was originally known in business circles as China’s (state-backed) answer to Google. But that view is looking more dated by the day as the company continues to innovate and diversify amidst a constantly evolving technology scene. Nowadays Baidu faces competition from local players such as 360 Search and Sogu Search, as well as multinational giants such as Yahoo!China, MSN, and Google – pressure that it cannot afford to ignore.

While internet penetration in China currently stands at a little over 50 percent (ranking it next to such countries as Vietnam, South Africa, and Panama) the number of users stands at around 700 million – a number that presents myriad challenges and opportunities. Tapping into a further 600 million users would be a growth catalyst for business across China – and not those engaged in eCommerce as a primary revenue stream. With its strategic position in the market, Baidu is poised to capitalise on growth in this area, which perhaps at least partially explains why the company now offers over 40 different services.

Alongside its main search engine function, Baidu users can expect assistance with everything from navigation (Baidu Maps), travel bookings (Qunar), and web analytics (Baidu Tongji), to internet TV (Baidu Movies), and a language assistant for Chinese visitors to Japan. The giant is also investing in emerging technologies such as AI and Deep Learning, and is using its data expertise for biological research.

A number of challenges remain (both economic and political) before this growth can be fully realised, as well as a great deal of uncertainty going forward. The elephant in the room is how the internet is currently monitored and censored in China. The country is houses the largest number of people imprisoned for internet violations; it’s notorious ‘Great Firewall of China’ limits access to certain sensitive topics and also causes a number of other problems for Chinese browsing internationally. In terms of internet freedom, China ranks among some of the lowest in the world. 

The rest of this article is in Business Review Asia's January issue. 

Follow @BizRevAsia and @MrNLon on Twitter.

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