Alibaba's joint venture seeks to upend China's mobile search market

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Spurred by the rapid ascension of Chinese mobile web use in recent years, Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group has joined with mobile browser company UCWeb to launch a mobile search engine aimed at toppling entrenched competitors in the country, according to an article by the Financial Times

As reported by FierceMobileIT, the China Internet Network Information Center estimates that about 500 million Chinese accessed the Internet through their smartphones in 2013, a nearly 20 percent increase from the 420 million user mark the previous year.

Shenma, the venture's name and translated as "sacred horse" in English, launched Monday in China at the URL sm.cn. The website stresses that this new search engine is something wholly different from Baidu, China's current top dog that has a 72 percent market share in mobile search, according to an article by CIO.

The joint venture is aimed at seizing the mobile search arena, "where smaller screens may not favour the traditional search engine that generates pages and pages of loosely targeted results," according to the newspaper. UCWeb's chairman and CEO, Yu Yongfu, told FT that the search engines available before Shenma were all developed for the desktop and conscripted into their mobile roles.

"By taking a mobile first approach to search, Shenma will integrate search technology into the full scope of user experiences," he said.

UCWeb has a controlling stake in the partnership, and the company could use its own established products to further the new brand. UC Browser, the largest third-party browser in the country, currently offers Baidu, Google, Yicha and Taobao as its in-browser search options, but they could easily be replaced by Shenma. Furthermore, Alibaba will be furnishing the project with previously acquired user data to help search results.

Yu will act as the chairman of the venture and UCWeb's chief technology officer, Liang Jie, will be the president. During the press conference Monday, Yu shared his optimistic thoughts on the current landscape of mobile search in China.

"By the end of the year mobile search queries will surpass desktop search queries," he said. "Mobile search is a new area, there is no king. Everyone is at the same starting line."

For more:
- read the Financial Times article (sub. req.)
- read the CIO article
- check out CNNIC's press release

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