Tencent has pushed into news feed and search functions in a direct challenge to Chinese search engine Baidu, as the country’s biggest internet group ramps up the competition to keep users within its walls to access the internet.  

The 770m people who use WeChat, the dominant social messaging app owned by Tencent, received an update on Wednesday night placing the two new functions prominently on the user interface.  The news feed and search tools pull content only from within WeChat’s walls rather than from the open web, including updates posted by individual users called moments, corporate accounts and an immense collection of WeChat accounts which are used by newspapers and independent bloggers.

Even though articles published on WeChat have their own web pages, Baidu is blocked from indexing them. This means they do not appear in the company’s search results. “We call it the ‘walled gardens’,” said Fang Xingdong, a free-speech activist and founder of ChinaLabs, a web research consultancy.  “Customers need to turn to different platforms to search for content.” The increasing segmentation of China’s internet has been accelerated by the rapid rise of smartphone use, as consumers increasingly access the internet through individual apps rather than a search engine such as Baidu. “People spend so much time on WeChat that the social feed and official accounts have become the main information resource for Chinese people,”

Mr Fang added. Analysis Tencent: Inside China’s ‘killer app’ factory The Hong Kong-listed company keeps its customers glued to their phones Tencent, Baidu and ecommerce group Alibaba, China’s three biggest internet companies, are increasingly venturing on to each others’ turf in the competition for advertising revenue. Baidu recently rolled out its own news feed function in a bid to get users to spend more time on its app. “The different interests of the big three companies make China’s internet more and more segmented,” said Xie Pu, a tech writer.

Alibaba initially blocked Baidu from indexing web-pages for products sold on its platforms and still makes it difficult for links from its e-commerce Taobao app to be shared on WeChat. Some analysts believe Tencent will eventually provide WeChat users with full web search capability through its partnership with Sougou, China’s second-biggest search provider by queries. “This is the first step,” said Mark Natkin of Marbridge Consulting, a tech research firm. “WeChat has done a good job of adding new functionalities, with each new increment sufficiently congruent, so that it makes sense to users. They keep expanding the core.”

Source: Financial Times