Baidu, China’s largest online search company, on Thursday launched a searchable applications library which allows third-party offerings in the library to launch directly on Baidu rather than on another website, providing a potential revenue boost for the company.
When a user searches for a specific online game, for example, the new function launches the game immediately without the user leaving the Baidu site. That is different from what happens traditionally when users get a search result consisting of a block of text and a link to another website.
The move, combining the idea of an applications store and a search engine, is a rare example of pioneering by the Chinese company. Other search engines do not yet have such a function.
Founded 10 years ago, Baidu has often been seen as a “follower” adept at adapting concepts invented by foreign rivals such as Google to the needs of Chinese consumers.
Efforts to deliver web results more immediately are also under way at Baidu’s competitors.
On Google, for example, a search for “temperature Vancouver” delivers a four-day weather report as well as a list of links to relevant websites. Baidu is the first to combine this principle with applications.
The new feature is part of the broader aim of Robin Li, the company’s founder and chief executive, to transform the web search box into a universal computing tool that could replace all other user interfaces.
Baidu’s apps library comprises about 400 programmes, mainly games, internet television services, antivirus programmes and electronic books.
Most apps in the library are free, but most e-books require payment.
Baidu said it planned to take 30 per cent of the revenues generated from applications users pay for, with 70 per cent going to the third-party developers.
The company has designed the new system to work in different languages but it plans to concentrate on ramping it up in China first.
“We would want to do this in Japan as well,” said Shen Haoyu, chief operating officer. But he added that Baidu would not actively market the platform there in the short term.
Baidu said it was not being paid by the third parties whose applications are in the library.
The company in the past mixed “organic” search results with sponsored links; however, following criticism of the practice, it has redesigned its online marketing over the past 12 months and now clearly marks paid results.