Earlier today we reported that Indonesia’s MNC group is working on a search engine product, and that its recent partnership with Tencent leads us to speculate it might be working with a Chinese company. While we already know Tencent is involved with MNC and we have also seen Baidu employees in Indonesia (though Baidu won’t comment on this), it’s not clear whether they’re really working on search there. But if they’re not, they should be.
The reason not to, of course, is that unlike in China, Google isn’t blocked in Indonesia, and the company already has a big foothold in the market there. But let’s not forget that Baidu was winning Chinese search by market share even before Google left town. Chinese companies can beat Google at its own game by being more local, and I’m not just talking about the language (although that is obviously key). Baidu services often won out over Google’s for Chinese users even when both sites were accessible not only because Baidu’s search results were better in Chinese (in my opinion), but also because it offered other services catered specifically to the market at that time. A good example of this is its MP3 search feature which, while full of pirated music, was definitely something that users wanted, and something that Google just didn’t offer.
Chinese companies could do the same thing to Google in Indonesia if they’re willing to adapt their services to local tastes and partner with local companies to better access the market. And while Chinese internet companies have a pretty terrible track record when it comes to overseas expansions, the successful ones are the ones that adapt to local tastes while still maintaining their original flavor. (See, for example, WeChat).
Indonesia’s internet is growing fast, and with nearly 250 million citizens, that means there is a huge internet market that is still in the process of opening up. Foreign companies will be there regardless; but Chinese companies should be taking advantage of their geographical proximity to mobilize teams in Indonesia and gain a foothold for their services in that market. If, when the dust settles, Google remains at the reins of search in Indonesia, it will be in part because Baidu, Tencent, and other Chinese companies failed to commit themselves until it was too late.
The platform is everything in a new internet market, so ruling search is more or less ruling the internet. But there are other kinds of platforms that Chinese companies might be even wiser to establish. I’m pretty sure Tencent hopes to pump up users on WeChat and the QQ Mobile browser in Indonesia, and Baidu wants the same for its Baidu Mobile Browser. Once users are on these platforms, promoting other relevant internet products becomes relatively easy. Some people believe that Indonesia is the next China and if that’s the case, there’s no reason why Baidu, Tencent, or any other Chinese companies shouldn’t be keeping Indonesia on their expansion shortlists.