Fang Kecheng, a PhD candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, and former news reporter for Southern Weekend (a relatively liberal media in Guangzhou), published an article in which he stated that Baidu is no longer a search engine for the public but rather a media promoting its own contents.
According to an experiment that Fang conducted, the first page of Baidu’s search results lists links to Bai Jiahao, Baidu’s own content platform. For example, when searching “British Brexit,” there were seven results on the first page. The first one was Baidu Baike (Encyclopedia), the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh were all Bai Jiahao articles. Searching “U.S. government shutdown,” half of the 8 links on the first page, including the first and second, were Bai Jiahao links. In a search for “Trump,” the links on the first page were: Baidu Baike, Baidu Tieba (Forum), Bai Jiahao, Bai Jiahao, Bai Jiahao, Bai Jiahao, Sina, Bai Jiahao, and Baidu Baike.
The quality of Bai Jiahao’s articles is questionable. For example, it published an article claiming that the CIA admitted that Bin Laden was not related to the “9-11” attack and apologized to his family. That article had been read 400,000 times.
Fang gave his analysis on why Baidu has become so “off the mark”:
One, China’s Internet has fierce competition and those mega companies, such as WeChat, Microblog, and Taobao, do not let Baidu search their contents, so, Baidu’s results are narrow.
Two, Baidu does not want to be a search engine anymore. It just wants to be a marketing platform, so it converts all people using its searches into traffic intended for its own site and then it will make money.
Fang argued that it is not a sustainable business model. Once people discover that they can’t find what they need, they will use it less and less. Baidu’s strategy was equivalent to spending all its money before doomsday.
Baidu’s Counter and Fang’s Rebuttal
Baidu responded to the article and claimed that contents from Bai Jiahao represent less than 10 percent of Baidu’s total search results.
Fang rebutted, “It is meaningless to use the total research results as a measure (and also, aren’t Bai Jiahao’s contents at 10 percent already too big a share of the total result)? People normally just look at the first and second page. It would be more meaningful if Baidu released the percentage data on the first page.”
1. Aboluo, January 24, 2019