Robin Li: Pioneer of China鈥檚 Information Superhighway

Online goldmine

However, after leading the search engine market in China for four years, Baidu began to face mounting challenges in 2003.

With the popularization of the Internet in China and the performance rebound from Chinese portals Sina Corp, and on the NASDAQ, search engines began to be regarded as the next gold mine -- after online advertising and mobile messages -- and more and more companies entered the field.

Domestic firm HC International, which got listed on the Hong Kong Growth Enterprise Market in December, also focuses on search technology as one of its core businesses and formed a China Search Engine Alliance with Sina and more than 100 local websites, as well as over 20 sites from leading Chinese media.

US giant Yahoo acquired 3721 Network Software Co Ltd, which owns domestic search service provider Beijing 3721, for US$120 million. The world's most popular search engine provider, Google, was also reported to be looking for domestic distributors.

In the face of these challenges, Li believes Baidu's focus on a Chinese language search engine service will be its biggest advantage.

"Google provides search engine services in more than 80 languages, but Baidu only focuses on the Chinese language, so its investment on the China market is much less than ours," he said.

As for domestic competitors, Baidu is also much more concentrated on the core business than others, Li believed.

Sina and Sohu operate on online advertising, mobile message services, enterprise Internet services, online games and e-commerce returns.

As for HC International and 3721, search engines are not their core business either.

Many companies are flocking to the new business, believing there is a gold mine," said the boss of, the 17th most popular website in the world and the fifth in China, according to the US-based Internet traffic monitoring website under

"In two years' time, you will see who wins the game and who loses."

Li believes his company is four years ahead of other Chinese competitors in terms of technology.

"The most effective weapon for us is continuous upgrading of our technology and enrichment of our function. Then users will decide who is the winner," Li said.

He predicted in late December that China's search engine market would reach US$50 million in 2003 and US$96-120 million this year.

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