In a day and age when every company from The Nielsen Co. and comScore Inc. to eMarketer Inc. and Hitwise Pty. Ltd. is trying to rigorously and systematically measure who is doing what on the Internet, we thought we'd clear the air with some wholesomely unscientific, anecdotal evidence.
Our first data point concerns which search companies are winning the user war in China. Matt Comyns (right), a managing partner with JL McGregor & Co., said that in a recent trip to the research firm's offices in Beijing and Shanghai he found that the company's 40-plus employees used Baidu.com exclusively as a search engine. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, Google, schmoogle.
When Comyns asked his colleagues why they preferred Baidu, he was told that. quite simply, it produced better search results. "It's not that they were Chinese and were loyal to a Chinese brand," he says. "It was just better."
Baidu commands roughly 60% of the Chinese search market, versus roughly 25% for Google. Granted, capturing a quarter of what soon will be the largest Internet market in the world (and Google has been expanding its footprint, although mostly at Yahoo! Inc.'s expense) is nothing to sneeze at. But the testimony of a handful of Chinese consumer's about Baidu's superior search performance--once Google's hallmark--is a useful reminder of how quickly the silk worm can turn on the Internet, even for seemingly invincible companies.
Closer to home, business networking site LinkedIn Corp. has been mentioned as an acquisition candidate of late, though there appears to be a disconnect between what the company believes it's worth and what a buyer is willing to pay. I was talking about the service with a friend the other day, who says he uses the site every day as a way to generate business leads. This person said LinkedIn has become an integral part of his business. Despite this evident utility (others find it less valuable), he has never spent a dime with the company. LinkedIn charges for premium services that supposedly make it easier to find contacts and generate business leads. It makes money through job listings and ads placed on its pages.
While my friend hasn't ponied up any dough to be a part of LinkedIn, he said it has become such an important part of his business that he would pay a nominal fee if it were to start charging for basic services. It's that kind of talk that highlight LinkedIn's potential value and why it will remain an acquisition target for larger Internet players.
Finally, to conclude this idle tour of spurious opinion, I admit that the Facebook phenomenon has largely escaped me, as my college days fade quietly into that good night.. Still, a conversation I overheard recently on the University of California campus in Berkeley brought me out of my slumber. Two friends were chatting about getting together during the holidays. One said, "Sure, I'll Facebook you."
When a proper noun becomes a verb, just as Googled entered the vernacular a few years ago, it takes things to a different level. Despite its popularity, the challenge for Facebook remains to monetize its rabid user base. Advertisers of course go where the eyeballs roam, so there should be plenty of opportunity. But as Google as learning in China, Internet users are perfectly happy to bid adieu when a Baidu comes along. - David Shabelman