Accoona's Wishful Thinking


The search engine Accoona was launched last December in a glitzy ceremony attended by former US president Bill Clinton and chess champion Gary Kasporov. After a scant few months of operation, the company announced that it had uncovered a heretofore unrecognized gulf between the searching habits of Chinese and those of Western nations: Westerners search for entertainment and celebrities, while Chinese search for manufacturing and education.

This fits in nicely with the "land of opportunity" line being pushed lately, as well as with Accoona's own corporate goals:

"One significant consequence of this finding is that there is a considerable opportunity for manufacturing and business-focused search capabilities in China, an area that Accoona has pioneered."
Unfortunately for Accoona, and for Asia Times Online, which ran a whitepaper written by Accoona employees as legit news, this is all a load of bull.

Accoona's Top 25 search terms for February, 2005 include such hot items as "China" (6% of top 25 searches), "Textile printing ink" (3%), "AL Corp musical instruments" (3%), and "Mongolian Software" (2%). Some things are suspiciously missing:

"Amazingly, there is no counterpart to these entertainment and celebrity searches in the Accoona results for China. In fact, there is not a single entertainment or celebrity-related result in Accoona's Top 25 list for China."
Tell that to Baidu, which with a market share of 36.3% is currently China's leading search engine. Their top 10 search terms for 2004 were two music celebrities, one athlete, two films, one song, a novel, and three IT-relates terms ("mp3", "QQ", and "BT"). And on their index of top search terms updated daily, the vast majority are entertainment-related. Heck, the February China Zeitgeist from Google (#3 engine with a share of 21.2%) has 7 entertainment terms out of ten, with the remainder taken up by Valentine's Day and online business information. Manufacturing is simply not a factor.

The Accoona white paper neglects to inform us of the size of its data set. It tells us that 3% of the top 25 searches were for "plastic flower pot manufacturers", but doesn't say whether this represents 30 searches or 30,000. Accoona's 20-year deal with China Daily Online resulted in a search bar being place on the CD portal pages. How many people use China Daily to search for entertainment?

Nor are we given the search terms themselves. Were keywords like "CEPA", "Mifare MF rc-531", and "Accoona" submitted in Chinese or Roman characters? The only Chinese term that shows up in the original White Paper is "qq珊湖虫原版", and even that is written incorrectly.

Ira Machefsky and John Fernandez, authors of the Accoona white paper, draw profound-sounding conclusions from the data:

"While the Chinese are out making everything from "plastic flower pots" (3%) to "laptop motherboards" (2%), US searchers are not only playing games, but feel they have to cheat to win at them."

"These search preferences tell a lot about the different preoccupations of two different cultures and civilizations. They reflect the mindsets of a free, established, and economically secure West with the time and money to pursue leisure activities, and a striving, achieving, manufacturing-based China seeking a more tolerant and open society."

These conclusions merely perpetuate longstanding myths.

For Accoona, misrepresenting their data in this way causes them to lose credibility, regardless of the performance of their search engine. For Asia Times Online to publish this piece of misleading corporate propoganda is simply irresponsible.

Links and Sources:
Asia Times Online reprint of the original Accoona white paper
Reuters article with current search engine market share stats
Image of plastic pots from Alibaba, overlaid with Accoona logo

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives