Baidu is a poorly-executed search engine. But with both government regulations handcuffing its development and lack of competition in China, it has never needed to be a great tool that delivers relevant results to Chinese netizens.
Competition is vital for innovation, and a new offering from Baidu's rival Tencent may push Baidu to try to innovate. Tencent revealed last week that is is now offering a search function within its WeChat application for users to track keywords and dive deeper into conversations.
As WeChat is primarily a walled garden, Baidu has not had access to WeChat data to create a searchable index. So WeChat's offering puts it in a great position — with over 900 millions worldwide, WeChat owns the Chinese messaging world. And the WeChat search function is only accessible by Tencent, so this pushes Baidu even more to the sidelines.
While WeChat's search does not now offer much indexing of Web content found outside of the WeChat application, it could ostensibly add that functionality in the future. If it does that, it will have cornered the market on search in China, to which Baidu has always seemed to have undeniable rights. It's easy for WeChat to add Web search functionality, but it's impossible for Baidu to add WeChat search functionality. Checkmate — Tencent can outmaneuver and defeat Baidu.
But does this mean ultimately that Tencent can or will return more relevant results? Tencent is still crippled by Chinese censorship regulations that will minimize the relevancy of search results and shrinks the universe of searchable and indexable Web pages.