Bbmao plunders Baidu, Google to reap search profits

Sherman So

Start-up's clustering technology attracts support from early MySpace backer

A Beijing-based start-up, bbmao, believes it can go one better than internet search engines such as China's Baidu and United States-based Google, whose shares have surged since investors have recognised their power and value.

Bbmao aims to be more useful to consumers by displaying results from a variety of sources, including Baidu, the search engines of Sohu. com and as well as Google and Yahoo.

Investors have driven up the value of Baidu more than 200 per cent since its shares listed in August last year. Google's shares have surged about 276 per cent since they listed 12 months earlier.

Bbmao, which started in February, is the first search engine of this kind in China, according to chief executive Choo Kiam.

The key to getting the right search results is a clustering technology that carries out a comparison based on linguistic characteristics, Mr Choo said.


'Each keyword can have different meaning in a different context,' he said.

'For example, the Chinese character for jingang can mean the movie King Kong or a diamond. Usually, search engines will just lump the results together. We separate them into different categories.'

Bbmao, which translates as 'comparison cat' also has a section that pulls results from the bookmarks of its registered users.

'People usually only bookmark those websites that are very useful. It is a vote of quality,' Mr Choo said.


Users can also save web pages and share them with others.

The site's potential has caught the attention of Broadweb Asia, a US-based venture capital fund set up in July last year by Brad Greenspan, an early investor in social networking site MySpace, which was sold to News Corp for US$580 million in July last year. Bbmao, which employs 15 people, received US$1.15 million from Broadweb Asia in August last year.


Bbmao makes its money by sharing the pay-per-click revenue of its partner search engines, of which Baidu is the most important.

'We pull most of our results from Baidu. That is partly due to negotiations and partly because Baidu is the No1 search engine in China,' Mr Choo said.

Users cannot tell whether results are sponsored links or not - they are all grouped together, unlike Google which separates natural search results and sponsored links.


Mr Choo is not concerned that such an approach may degrade the quality of the search. 'Baidu is doing the same,' he said.

At the moment, bbmao has only several hundred of thousands page views per day and the company is not yet profitable.

Broadweb Asia president Daniel Yeh said bbmao had great technology and product. 'Its prospects are bright,' he said.


Broadweb is investing in 20 other mainland companies.

'A lot of them are from social networking and entertainment sectors,' Mr Yeh said.

Mr Greenspan invested US$1 million in MySpace in 2003 and netted more than US$47 million when it was taken over by News Corp, according to a BusinessWeek report.

Mr Greenspan kept about 11 per cent of MySpace when he left the company in 2003 amid an informal SEC inquiry and accounting restatements.

He was ordered to pay US$750,000 in fines under a settlement last year of a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer charging Intermix, the then owner of MySpace, with illegally causing millions of users to download intrusive adware and spyware software, US media reports said.