Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Baidu.com Ready for Stock Market Debut

Filed under
Web

Baidu.com takes its name from a 900-year-old poem but its ambitions are ultramodern - to become the Chinese-language equivalent of Internet search giant Google Inc. Little known abroad, 5-year-old Baidu.com says it already is the world's sixth most-visited Internet site, thanks to a strong following from China's 100 million-plus Web surfers.

Now the startup founded by two Chinese veterans of American tech firms is preparing to follow Google's example with an initial public offering in the United States, hoping to raise $45 million. A date for the offering has not been announced.

Baidu.com is in the front ranks of an emerging group of Chinese companies that are trying to create Internet services uniquely suited to their country's ideogram-based language and the political restrictions of its communist government.

"Here's a homegrown company that has created what really is a very strong search product," said David Wolf, managing director of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based consulting firm.

Baidu.com was founded in 2000 by Robin Li, who earned a master's degree in computer science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and worked for U.S. search engine firm Infoseek, and Eric Xu, a Ph.D. from Texas A&M and a veteran of American biotech firms. Xu is no longer with Baidu.com.

The name - pronounced "by doo" - means "one hundred times." It comes from a Song dynasty poem and refers to a man ardently searching for his lover in a festival crowd.

It didn't take Google long to see the firm's potential. It bought 2.6 percent of Baidu.com last year in a move that outsiders thought might lead to the American search engine taking over the tiny Chinese startup. But Baidu.com has stayed independent.

Google's influence shows, though, in Baidu.com's spare white Web site that is nearly identical to its investor's.

By contrast, competitor 3721.com - bought in 2003 by U.S.-based Yahoo! - is a busier, colorful site with animated graphics.

Other early backers include U.S.-based venture capital firms with a reputation for spotting promising newcomers: Draper Fisher Jurvetson - Baidu.com's biggest shareholder, with a 28 percent stake - and the investment arm of International Data Group.

Baidu.com's IPO is modest beside the $1.2 billion that Google raised through its public offering last August. But its tentative price for the block of shares being offered values the whole Chinese company at $650 million.

The company says it is already making money - some $303,000 for the three months that ended on March 31.

China's communist government promotes Internet use for business and education. But it has also launched sweeping efforts to police online content, blocking access to material deemed subversive or pornographic.

The extent of the censorship controls has been highlighted by the changes that foreign companies make when they launch Chinese versions of commonly used services.

Free-speech activists criticized Microsoft Corp. when the blogging section of its recently launched China-based Web portal rejected such words as democracy, freedom and human rights, labeling them "forbidden language."

A search on Google's China-based service for such topics as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama or the banned spiritual group Falun Gong returns a message that says "site cannot be found."

And communist leaders, early believers in the Internet's economic promise, seem intent on keeping foreign involvement to a minimum in order to keep the profits for China's own firms.

Baidu.com's decision to stay independent could help it with intensely nationalistic Chinese regulators, eliminating any doubts about divided loyalties, said Wolf.

"It's a company that has grown up in the Chinese system. It's going to be a favorite of a lot of partners here and an implicit favorite of the government for that reason," he said.

Internet firms with foreign partners have been challenged by regulators who demand assurances that Chinese managers will stay in place and not surrender control to outsiders.

Baidu.com, 3721.com and other Chinese search engines also face daunting linguistic challenges that designers working in English and most other languages don't.

Chinese uses thousands of ideograms. On a computer, they usually are written by typing words phonetically in Roman letters, then using special software to convert them to characters.

Making things even more complex, the mainland's communist leaders simplified many characters after the 1949 revolution, while Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other societies use the old system.

So a search engine must sift through twice as many characters. And Chinese is written without spaces between words, making it hard for a machine to figure out where one ends and the next begins.

Then there are the quirks of a writing system with a vast literary history, 1 billion modern users and pressure to keep up with technology and international commerce. Baidu.com's advertising notes that Chinese has 38 ways to say "I."

Financial analysts forecast fast growth but brutal competition in the industry over the next few years, leaving only a handful of competitors.

Already, Baidu.com has been through a court battle with 3721.com after accusing its rival of adding elements to its software that blocked users from reaching the Baidu.com site.

A Beijing court ruled against 3721.com in April, ordering it stop such "unfair competition."

The lawsuit "did much to reinforce Baidu's underdog image," said Wolf. "That turned out to be very positive for them in China. It made people check them out."

By JOE McDONALD
Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

Leftovers: Gaming

Red Hat and Fedora

Android Leftovers

Leftovers: OSS and Sharing

  • What is open source software?
    The term open source when connected to software may today seem like it’s been around forever, but you would be surprised how new of a concept it is. The transformational nature of the telecommunication industry’s march towards a software future should not be under estimated. What for most of its history has been an industry based on live, physical hardware is quickly turning into a future where hardware will still be there, but it will be the software inside that is truly running the game.
  • Get to know Tuleap for project management
    Tuleap is a unique open source project management tool with great momentum right now, ever month they have one major release. It's also been listed it in both the Top 5 open source project management tools in 2015 and the Top 11 project management tools for 2016. "Tuleap is a complete GPLv2 platform to host software projects. It provides a central place where teams can find all the tools they need to track their software projects lifecycle successfully. They will find support for project management (scrum, kanban, waterfall, hybrid, etc.), source control (git and svn) and code review (pull requests and gerrit), continuous integration, issue tracking, wiki, and documentation," said Manuel Vacelet, co-founder and CTO of Enalean, the company behind the Tuleap project.
  • ATTYS Open-Source Biosignal Acquisition Device Helps Developers Build Wearable Gadgets
    The software within the ATTYS is open source and the idea for the device came out of Dr. Bernd Porr who has devoted his efforts to education the public about applications and techniques for measuring various biosignals. In the process he decided to build a manufactured device that can help developers bypass the difficult step of building such component themselves.
  • Be a force for good in your community
  • Deepgram open sources Kur to make DIY deep learning less painful
    Deepgram, a YC backed startup using machine learning to analyze audio data for businesses, is open sourcing an internal deep learning tool called Kur. The release should further help those interested in the space get their ideas off the ground more easily. The startup is also including 10 hours of transcribed audio, spliced into 10 second increments, to expedite the training process. Similar to Keras, Kur further abstracts the process of building and training deep learning models. By making deep learning easier, Kur is also making image recognition and speech analysis more accessible.
  • Mozilla Dinosaur Now Extinct as Curl-like Logo Debuts
    Mozilla officially debuted its new logo, after an intensive open process that helped to select the new brand. Surely the new logo is a step forward away from the archaic dinosaur, but it's not entirely a unique type of brand-mark either.
  • Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) added support for Intel-backed Clear Linux distribution
  • Microsoft’s new Linux option for Azure is Clear in the cloud
  • Microsoft adds Intel backed Clear Linux to Azure public cloud
  • Wintel part deux? Microsoft Azure first for Intel Clear Linux
  • Open source organizations can now apply for Google Summer of Code 2017
    Open source ideology is changing the world. What was once (wrongfully) viewed as something just for hobbyists, is now a billion dollar industry. In other words, closed source is not the only way to make profits. Open source code is found in many places, including mainstream consumer electronics -- look no further than Android smartphones. Speaking of Android, its creator -- Google -- is a huge proponent of open source. In fact, every summer, the search giant holds its "Summer of Code" program. This initiative partners inspiring developers (in college, age 18+) with organizations as a way to further the open source movement. Today, Google announces that organizations can begin applying for the program.
  • SugarPill, Substantial create open-source designs for civic action
    SugarPill owner Karyn Schwarz is used to customers coming in and asking for help with depression and anxiety. After Donald Trump won the presidency, she said she realized what she wanted to prescribe were ways to take effective action against intolerance and injustice.
  • Brush Up on Your Big Data Skills, Including Free Training Options
    In the tech job market race these days, hardly any trend is drawing more attention than Big Data. And, when talking Big Data, the subject of Hadoop inevitably comes up, but Spark is becoming an increasingly popular topic. IBM and other companies have made huge commitments to Spark, and workers who have both Hadoop and Spark skills are much in demand.With all this in mind, several providers are offering free Hadoop and Spark training.
  • Java Performance Monitoring: 5 Open Source Tools You Should Know
    One of the most important things for any application is performance. We want to make sure the users are getting the best experience they can, and to know that our app is up and running. That’s why most of us use at least one monitoring tool. If you’re looking for something a little different in the performance monitoring market, one option you can choose is going for an open sourced tool. In the following post we’ve gathered some open source APM tools that are available today as an alternative to the paid tools, so you’ll be able to see if it’s the right choice for you.