China’s Sogou has been a player in the search market here since the early days. At present, it commands around 8 percent of the search market share, which makes it one of China’s top three search engines but still puts it way, way behind the dominant Baidu (which has more than 70 percent of the market). But Sogou does dominate the Chinese input method market, with reportedly more than 100 million users across its mobile and PC input methods.
Yesterday, Sogou announced an update to the “smart” version of its PC input method software that seems to signal the company is placing increased importance on search. Users of the latest version of the smart input method (which you can get here) will find that when they type certain terms, relevant search results pop up directly below the character selection bar. Sogou says this will save users massive amounts of time, as where previously they needed to open a browser and search for certain kinds of content, now they can get direct links from anywhere on their computer by simply by typing their search terms. Here’s how it works:
These results don’t pop up for every word you type, though, it only happens for certain kinds of terms: movie and TV titles, songs, app titles, e-services like banking, public transportation, the weather, etc. So if you have the Sogou smart input method installed, every time you type “weather,” a little window will pop up, showing you the local weather. Every time you type the name of your favorite song, links will pop up that allow you to listen to it directly from the input method without even having to open a browser.
If you think that sounds potentially distracting, you’re right, but luckily Sogou allows you to select what environments these results will pop up in during the installation process, so if you don’t want to see them while you’re working in Microsoft Word (for example), you don’t have to. You can also choose to make the pop-up results optional so that they only show up if you click the little light bulb next to the term you’ve typed. Of course, that adds an extra click to the process, but it makes the whole thing less of a distraction while still keeping it pretty convenient.
It’s certainly a time-saver, and it could funnel a lot of Sogou’s users through Sogou search channels if it’s widely adopted. This could be damaging to Baidu (and to its less-popular search competitor Qihoo) because many of its top searches are for entertainment or other content that might be covered by the Sogou app. But at present, the new smart feature is a voluntary add-on, and it remains to be seen how widely it will be adopted among Sogou’s user base.
I downloaded the new input method to take it for a test drive and was reasonably impressed. Because I had set it to pop up only when I clicked a button, the search results were never intrusive, and sometimes it was a bit faster than searching conventionally would be. With that said, there did seem to be a few bugs in the system. When I typed “weather,” it gave me Beijing’s weather, which isn’t particularly helpful since I am about 7,000 miles away from Beijing.
Sogou takes a second to find results when I type ‘train tickets’ into the Baidu search bar.
Also, because the search is designed to redirect you to Sogou products, sometimes it actually adds a step to the process. When I searched for “Miss Puff” (which is a Youku original TV show) and clicked on the search result for the show, it took me to a Sogou page that required me to click again to be redirected to the Youku page where I could actually watch the show. But when I searched “Miss Puff” on Baidu, there was a direct link to the show’s fourth season on Youku right on the top of the first page. Of course, this issue is likely to apply only to content that Sohu and Sogou don’t own the rights to, so for many searches, using Sogou’s input method search really is faster.
So will searching directly in input-method software catch on? That remains to be seen. Baidu does have its own input method software, so it could easily implement a similar feature set (and I will be surprised if it doesn’t), but Sogou has a bigger user base. Although the smart IME currently only works for Sogou’s PC input method, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar mobile product rolled out soon as well. It’s starting to look like this could be as interesting a year for search in China as last year was.
The post A Revolution in China’s Search Market? Sogou Integrates Search into its Input Method appeared first on Tech in Asia.
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