Google Strong In China Surf War

Google logo, and China Flag-map with code AP / CBS

A survey of Chinese Web surfers found U.S.-based search giant Google in an unexpectedly strong position to challenge domestic rival Baidu.com, according to results released Wednesday.

Google came in first in 11 of 13 categories in the survey of 1,200 Internet users, said Keynote Systems Inc., a San Mateo, California-based firm that studies consumer data for online companies.

That was despite Baidu's widespread popularity in its Chinese home market, where it is the preferred search engine for 48 percent of users, according to Chinese government data cited by Keynote.

"It was interesting that Google came out on top," said Jeff Kraatz, Keynote's Asia Pacific vice president.

The survey covered Chinese-language search sites run by Google Inc.; Baidu Inc.; Yahoo Inc.'s Chinese partner, Alibaba.com; and the Chinese company Sohu.com Inc.

Google is a latecomer to China, the world's second-largest Internet market after the United States, with more than 111 million people online as of the end of 2005.

Competitors in communist China's fast-growing search industry face unusual challenges in dealing with censorship regulations, a language based on pictographic characters, and distinctive consumer demands.

Activists have criticized Google and Yahoo for complying with censorship controls by not listing search results in China about democracy, human rights and other sensitive topics.

Chinese users judged Google best in searching for news, images and general information, according to Keynote.

Baidu came out on top in music searching, mainly for MP3 recordings, a popular activity in China, the company said.

But as many as 50 percent of users also expressed frustration with all the sites studied, saying results often were out of date, cluttered with advertising or not relevant, according to Keynote.

By contrast, it said, surveys in the United States find frustration rates of 15 percent to 18 percent.

The survey questioned 1,200 Internet users, 70 percent from major cities and 30 percent from other areas, over a four-week period in November and December, Keynote said.

In a sign that no competitor has locked in a solid base of loyal users, Kraatz said Chinese users were found to be "very open" to switching search engines if they don't find what they want.

"They all need work," Kraatz said in an interview. "Whether they're a North American company coming in or a local company, they all have the same area to improve."

The communist government encourages Internet use for education and business but tries to block access to material deemed subversive or obscene and has jailed dissidents for online postings that criticize communist rule.
  • Melissa McNamara

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