Last year, state-owned Party mouthpiece newspaper People’s Daily decided to get into the search game and launched Goso.cn. Perhaps because that name was widely criticized as derivative of already-existing search services Sogou and Soso, they later changed the name to Jike.
Jike CEO Deng Yaping was in the news this morning, as she said that Google was “worth learning from” and that it “promotes American values and democracy around the world.” And although she promised Jike won’t just “blindly follow Google” and will walk its own path, she also said that Jike was planning to add search in other languages — right now it’s just Chinese — to compete on an international level.
Big words for a search engine that’s market share in China might be described as microscopic, but it got me wondering…is there anything to this Jike thing? I had tried the search engine out for kicks when it first came out — it sucked — but now they’ve had over a year to work on it.
Now seemed as good a time as any to really dig in and kick the tires, so I tried a series of searches on Jike in Chinese, and compared the results there to results for the same searches on Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Google.com.hk (which is the closest thing Google has to a China search engine these days). Who should be learning from who? Read on to find out!
(Note: all the search terms below are rendered in English, but in the actual test I was using the Chinese terms)
Test #1: Finding Food
Everyone needs to eat, and the internet is full of places that can help you do that. First, I searched for Pizza Hut, because they’re one of the few places that offers a functional online ordering service and delivers to my inconveniently-located apartment.
Jike: The first result is Pizza Hut’s official China page, which is good. After that, though, there are links to entries on different wiki sites, but no direct link to Pizza Hut’s online ordering site. Granted, I could have found that link on Pizza Hut’s official site, but it would have been nice to see it directly in the search results here. If I didn’t already know Pizza Hut offered online ordering, Jike wouldn’t have helped. Grade: B.
Baidu: Pizza Hut’s official site is the first result, the second result is a deals site, and the third result is Pizza Hut’s official online ordering service. Not sure what the deals site is doing there, but the basic links I was looking for were both in the top three. Grade: A-.
Google: Google has Pizza Hut’s official site first and their online ordering site second. That deals site above was Google’s number three result. With the official site at number one and online ordering at number two, this grade is pretty easy. Grade: A.
OK, but that’s foreign food. What about a more generic (and location-specific) search like “Beijing delivery food”?
Jike: Jike did pretty well here, linking to a number of online ordering sites and delivery services, and all of the top results were in Beijing. Grade: A-.
Baidu: Baidu performed about the same as Jike here, except that its results also included a map with names, phone numbers, and street addresses. Grade: A.
Google: Google was also similar, and also included a map. On the one hand, the map appeared to have more selections than Baidu’s. On the other hand, it seemed to include a disproportionate number of Indian restaurants. Not that that’s really a bad thing. Grade: A.
So, everybody did OK here. Jike was noticeably less good than Baidu or Google, but it wasn’t awful. A Jike user looking for food probably wouldn’t go hungry.
Test #2: Buying Stuff
The internet is great for
porn shopping. Ecommerce is increasingly popular in China. I enjoy reading when I get the chance, so I first tried a simple search for “buy books” to see if the search engines could steer me towards a good online bookseller.
Jike: Jike pointed me to a wiki entry about a Song dynasty poem called “Buying Books”. The next result appeared to be a map of Shanghai booksellers — not so useful for a Beijing denizen like me — and then it was downhill into Douban profiles of people who happened to mention purchasing books. The front page didn’t contain any links to China’s big online book sellers. Grade: F.
Google: Google’s results were very similar to Baidu’s, the first two results were Dangdang links and the third was Amazon.cn. Those two sites are what should appear at the top of a search for buy books. Grade: A.
But maybe Jike just isn’t good with books? I’m also in the market for some sportswear, so I tried searching for that on all three sites.
Jike: Again, Jike started off two two different wiki links, in case I wasn’t familiar with what sportswear was, I guess. After that, there were a number of random links, but the closest it got to a reliable e-tailer on the front page was a news story involving Alibaba. Grade: F.
Baidu: Baidu also led off with a wiki link, but the results after that were links to the sporting clothes sections of reliable ecommerce sites like 360buy as well as direct brand results like the official Li Ning homepage. There were also three ad results, at least one of which seemed sketchy to me, but they were all relevant. Grade: B+.
Google: Google had a mix of sketchy-looking links and links to more accepted sites like Taobao and Amazon.cn. Overall, though, it wasn’t a great showing for Google. Grade: C.
Google and Baidu were about even in this category, with Baidu’s results perhaps being a little more helpful. Jike was a very, very distant third, offering results that were almost totally useless.
Test #3: Social Networking
These days, the net is all about networking. Microblogging is China’s current fascination, so how would our three amigos respond to a search for weibo?
Jike: Jike lists Sina Weibo’s homepage first and Tencent Weibo’s second before going on to list more obscure Weibo options, but bizarrely, Tencent Weibo’s listing is entirely in English. This is very odd, and it means that non-English-speakers (i.e., most of Jike’s users) are probably going to miss out on China’s biggest microblogging service (in terms of registered users). Grade: C-.
Baidu: Baidu lists Sina first and Tencent second, and in fourth place it offers a wiki page on what microblogging is. Pretty basic stuff. Grade: A.
Google: Almost exactly the same as Baidu. Grade: A.
Very strange that Jike offered Tencent’s result in English; thus far it’s the only English result I’ve seen there. But it certainly makes their site less useful for Chinese netizens looking to ride the Weibo wave.
Test #4: “Sensitive” Content
This one is a bit unfair, since once of these search engines is based in Hong Kong, and thus able to operate with more freedom than the other two, but I figured it’d be worth checking out anyway. I started with a search for Zhao Ziyang, a former Party leader who was ousted in the aftermath of the 1989 protests and later penned a controversial autobiography.
Jike: Jike keeps it strictly official. The top three results two news stories involving Zhao on the Chinese government’s official website and a story about his remains being burned from the People’s Daily. Someone looking to learn about Zhao’s real legacy wouldn’t find much of substance here. Grade: C.
Baidu: Baidu does a bit better, offering an official biography as the first result that does refer to his expulsion from the Party in June of 1989 for “making the mistake of supporting unrest and Party splittists at a crucial moment.” Baidu is clearly being careful; there are no wiki links here, but at least someone searching Baidu could find an official biography and get some idea of who Zhao was. Grade: B.
Google: Unsurprisingly, Google fares best here, as the first result is a link to Zhao’s biography on Wikipedia. That link is blocked within China, but it also features a couple of domestic wiki links. Users looking for a complete understanding of Zhao would have better luck here than anywhere else. Grade: A-.
Google was the clear winner here, and although that’s an unfair comparison to make, it’s worth noting that Baidu was still more helpful than Jike.
Test #5: Image Search
All three of these sites also offer image search. Since people like looking at pretty ladies, I did a search for Pan Shuangshuang, a Chinese model was in the news earlier this year after some of her sexy photos were “leaked” online.
Jike: Jike did shockingly well here. All of the images were of attractive women, and almost all of them were actually Pan Shuangshuang. Even when I restricted the search to large images only, Jike was still pretty on target. Grade: A.
Baidu: Baidu was about the same as Jike, with pages and pages of photos, most of which were actually of Pan. Grade: A.
Google: Google performed about the same as everyone else. Lots of sexy pictures of Pan. Grade: A.
I didn’t expect it, but the three search engines were about equal here. I guess everyone spends their time fine-tuning search for pretty pictures before they bother working on their algorithms for content!
Obviously, this is a highly subjective and unscientific test, but based on my experience, Jike varies from kind of decent to essentially unusable depending on what you’re looking for. It did well in the picture test, but completely failed in my search for book etailers and was varying degrees of inferior for every other content test.
So yeah, clearly there’s a lot Jike could learn from Google, and maybe they should consider copying them a little more closely. Innovation and uniqueness is great, but if that means your search engine can’t point people in the direction of Amazon and DangDang when they search for “buy books” then I’d prefer to use a copycat that isn’t unique but can at least help me find what I’m looking for!