Brazil’s very own version of the Baidu search engine, Baidu Busca, went live on July 17th without much fanfare. More like a quiet chess move than a carnival parade, it is not yet posing any threat to major players such as Google, Yahoo and Bing outside of China, but it is surely aiming in that direction.
Regarded as the “most socially-engaged internet users in the world”, Brazilians are all about consuming and sharing content. In order to capture this audience, Baidu has been working towards embedding content right into the website, while a social feature (a version of Baidu Tieba) allows users to “like” their favourite topics and follow them through forum discussions and news articles.
The Chinese internet giant’s plans do not stop at the front page. Behind Baidu Brazil, there is a small 18-staff office, but it has many plans to introduce other major products in the country. So far, “Baidu Busca” presents a hit-and-miss combination of interesting features, grammatical mistakes and privacy issues. Check this out to see whether this search engine has what it takes to take Latin America by storm starting with Brazil:
Predictive search field
While auto-complete search has been around for 10 years, Baidu Busca takes it to the next level. It actually gives you a suggestion to what to search for before you even get to type. Now that is about being predictive!
What about the search? It works, but it is nothing ground-breaking. Most links seem relevant and the search engine results page will even offer you a mix of links to websites, images and videos. Depending on what you are looking for, a “timeline” snippet might appear on the right side of the page, giving you more information about the subject. Some of the results showed “funny” meta-descriptions and maybe have not been indexed correctly yet.
Postbar gives users an opportunity to follow topics around their interests, from football to celebrity gossip. They work like a debate group around a specific subject, with photos, surveys and links to news stories. Sadly, the content does not seem yet to be moderated and the translation across these pages is quite poor.
Online communities are a big thing for Brazilians and that is what kept Google’s Orkut, a major pre-Facebook social network, alive till now. Baidu Brazil definitely got that right! Interestingly enough, you can create a Postbar account or just use your Facebook login details.
Baidu Busca focuses heavily on telling the user what to look for or what topics to follow. Not only will the auto-complete feature suggest a full search term for you, the front page also gives you quick-access to Facebook, YouTube and Brazilian content providers.
There is a reason for that: there is an expanding middle class in Brazil that is going more and more digital. This brand new audience is taking its first steps towards the web. With quick links and topic suggestions, Baidu Busca is hoping to make their web experience easier. While it might scare away the most experienced users with all these images and brand names, this approach is supposed to work as an induction for new visitors and non-heavy internet users.
Names like Hao123, Spark Browser and DU Battery Saver might not mean much to you, but they have certainly been bothering many Brazilian users lately. These are all tools created by Baidu to gain knowledge about Brazilian online user behaviour while offering them resources to get rid of junk files, improve computer speed and a heavy-loaded browser that allows all things from Torrent download to sending SMS for free.
Baidu has chosen quite an aggressive approach, finding different ways of making people download these tools and use them – whether they know they are downloading them or not. The reaction to it has killed any positive buzz. Many websites offer tutorials to show people how to remove these tools from their computers and it is not hard to find users complaining about Baidu and its “spyware”.
Baidu opened an office in Brazil in 2012 to study the market and learn its user behaviour. These two years have not been enough to make the site bullet-proof in terms of language. The translation not only sounds stiff, but it just does not work at times.
Will Baidu succeed in Brazil?
Baidu has come a long way from China to Brazil, hoping to improve its global market share while tackling a fellow BRIC country for that goal. One of the main challenges might be to overcome the image that Brazilians have about Chinese products exported to the country, usually cheap and low-quality. Also, privacy issues are more important and more likely to cause a stir in the Latin country than they do behind the Great Wall.
For now, Baidu Busca presents itself as a search engine for starters but it is itself a beginner, with a long way to go before it becomes an actual alternative to Google and Bing.
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