Intel and three other companies have invested US$2 million in a company producing a Chinese-language guide to the World-Wide Web similar to Yahoo. Sohoo, or Search Fox in English, was located at www. sohoo.com.cn and catalogued about 50,000 Web sites, said Charles Zhang, chief executive of Internet Technologies China (ITC), a start-up company in Beijing. 'The investment will be used to upgrade ITC's efforts in developing Sohoo into the ultimate source for China's growing Internet population,' he said. The other investors include technology magazine publisher IDG, Heng Long and Harrison. These companies are 'willing to join us to open up the last major piece of virgin land on the Web', said Mr Zhang. Statistics show the mainland has about 700,000 registered Internet users. Adding casual access, the total could be up to two million, and the annual growth rate has been about 120 per cent since 1994. 'There are huge demands for a nice Chinese search engine as people all over China keep pouring contents into the Web,' said Mr Zhang. 'Chinese net users will get lost without a guide.' While there are several other mainland Web guides and search engines, they tend to be too small to be much help. Launched in February this year, Sohoo is the only well-publicised guide, and is said to be the mainland's most visited site, with an average 12,000 to 15,000 users each day. Mr Zhang acknowledges that Web surfers often feel disappointed with Sohoo, but hopes the new investment will help to make it a more powerful search engine. As Sohoo depends mainly on human-classification technology, it demands high investment in human resources and equipment. Mr Zhang said he needed to raise more funds to expand his business. 'Before we eventually float our stocks on Nasdaq, in perhaps 2001, we still need to get a large amount of investment,' Mr Zhang said. Yahoo has said it would launch a guide to Chinese Web sites this year. Mr Zhang claims the fledgling Sohoo beats Yahoo for searching Chinese-language sites. 'As we are based in China, we can list more local sites more quickly and our service is more targeted to local Web users,' he said. Mr Zhang even joked that he had heard that 'the developers of Yahoo's Chinese site also visit my site'. Aged 33, Mr Zhang does not conceal his ambition to be the mainland's version of Jerry Yang, the young co-founder of Yahoo, but is not sure whether the two will end up as competitors or co-operators. 'I heard that Yahoo would come to China in June. We are exploring ways of co-operating with Yahoo and several other companies,' he said.