Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sohu scored a big coup, Google the winner

Last week, Google released it's Chinese pingying input application which speeds up Chinese entry using standard western English keyboards.

A big controversy erupted immediately with some internet users pointed out the similarity between Google's input system and Sogou's innovative input system. Sogou is Sohu's Chinese search engine.

Some internet post indicated one of Sogou's earlier version had a bug that Sogou later corrected but reappeared in Google's input system. Some also claimed Sogou engineers have intentionally left digital "finger print" in their dictionary and that unlikely coincidence proved Google has in fact copied Sohu's dictionary.

Initially, Google China remained silent for a few days. Sohu must felt a golden opportunity might have slipped away. It can no longer keep quiet. Sohu formally asked Google to stop using it's input system with a threat to sue Google.

Today, Google formally apologized and updated it's input system to rid of the similar mistakes that have appeared in Sogou's input system.

More than two years, Charles Zhang, CEO of Sohu claimed it only took one year for Sogou to overtake Baidu to become the leading Chinese search engine. Time has gone fast and Sogou is working hard to stay even relevant. Sogou's fate has been in quite a parallel like that of the Live Search after Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer vowed to kill Google in six month, or perhaps in a year.

It's easy to see the controversy was no doubt started with the help of Sogou if not somebody directly from Sogou due to the mention of the digital "finger print".

Now Sogou scored a major coup. From now on, there are only two search engines have easy Chinese pingying input system. Sogou the pioneer, and Google the follower. Especially Sogou is leading the fight against Google, not Baidu.

However, the real winner will be Google.

The reasons are: First, this whole controversy is better than anything as a major breaking news that attracts Chinese users to try the Google input system. A Google announcement cannot even imagine to achive this level of publicity.

Secondly, Google did a first, that is to apoligize to a competitor in China. There has been so many dirty fights among Chinese internet players in the last few years. Charles Zhang has been upfront throwing punches onto almost everyone else. Google has not only updated dictionary in two days but also improved it's public image instead.

Now, let's look back at the whole issue. Was Google guilty?

Perhaps Google engineers were lazy, perhaps they were rushing out their system so they copies part of Sogou's dictionary.

Let's look more carefully at the evident "bug" that was in Sogou's dictionary and widely reported as true proof.

"Fenggong" is a famous comedian in China. Sogou's system initially spelled it as "Pinggong" but later corrected it. The initial release of Google's sytem still spelled it as "Pinggong", so Google was caught.

Let's not judge whether Chinese dictionary should be proprietary to a company or not, what we know is that both Sogou's system and Google's system are based statistically on frequencies of word appearances in internet data that they indexed independently and both are likely extensions of "Google Suggest".

The strong evidence of the "bug" seems quite strong to the whole world. However, it's somehow laughable to many Chinese since the comedian's Chinese name can be spelled either as Feng or Ping known as "equivacal word" in English. Perhaps there are many Chinese misspelled his name as "Pinggong" and that misspelling was indexed by both Sogou and Google's crawlers. Can Sogou prove here that the "misspelling" is proprietary to a Sohu engineer?

While since Google admitted to have used other people's dictionary source in its apology to Chinese users and Sohu, no need to defend Google here.

But, Google perhaps has done a great public relationship stunt here. With more people trying out the new input system, they will addict to it and by word of mouth again, Google might just found out a break through point to gain ground on Baidu significantly.

Baidu, beware!


Blogger msmouse said...

pinggong is not a common mistyping, the Family name of Fenggong has two pronauncing corresponding to Ping or Feng, but as a family name it is always Feng. And no chinese people call him Pinggong

3:05 AM  

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