China’s ByteDance, which owns popular video sharing app TikTok, is already working to enter the smartphone business and the music streaming space. It appears the world’s most valued startup also has ambitions about developing its own search engine. Kind of.
A company spokesperson told TechCrunch on Thursday that it has introduced a search function in ByteDance’s Toutiao news app.
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“The function is in line with Toutiao’s mission of “information creates value”. Users can try the function in the app and provide feedback and suggestions on the new function,” the spokesperson said.
The search function gleans information not just from content on Toutiao, but the entire world wide web, TechCrunch understands.
From the looks of it, ByteDance’s current search functionality is more alike WeChat’s in-app search function than local giant Baidu’s or Google’s offering.
On WeChat, when a person looks up a keyword, they see news articles about that topic, followed by mentions of it from their friends. This is followed by random articles about the subject. When a user clicks on any of these article or news links, WeChat serves them the page through its in-app browser, giving them no option to leave the walled-garden.
The idea is to change the way people think about — and use — a search engine altogether. And in China, where apps such as WeChat and TikTok have gained gigantic reach on mobile, it seems logical to add all news functionalities within those apps.
ByteDance’s interest in a search engine became public on Wednesday after it published a recruitment post on its WeChat account. The startup said its “search engine” is aimed at “hundreds of millions of mobile users in China.”
“We will build a universal search engine with a better user experience from 0 to 1. Only you don’t want to search, there is no [info] you can’t find, because we can search the whole network,” the company said in the post.
According to the description in the listing, ByteDance has already hired people from other search engines such as Google, Baidu, Bing, and 360.
An analysis of LinkedIn listings by TechCrunch found more than 100 people from Google, Microsoft, and Baidu, many of whom worked around search divisions at the previous companies, have joined ByteDance.
Baidu currently holds more than 75% of the search engine market in China, according to StatCounter Global Stat, a third-party service that tracks web usage. Microsoft’s Bing is also operational in the country though its market share remains in the low single-digit. Google currently does not offer its search feature in China — though it has attempted to change that in recent months to no luck.