I didn’t know about this until reading about it on former CNReviews co-blogger David Feng’s techblog86. GoSo.cn’s Chinese name is actually quite simply “The People’s Search [Engine]” but whereas David says the domain name is an attempt to be “‘snazzy’ and ‘fashionable'”, I just think its largely shameless.
“Chinese Are Copy-cats!”
Yeah, let’s get this out of the way. First, there are two other Chinese search engines called Sogou.com2 and Soso.com3. If we want to nitpick, we can argue that GoSo.cn essentially changed one letter compared to the latter and is a simple reversal of syllables on the former.
Okay, fine, those are a bit of stretch and I’m just being petty. “Go so” as “go search” is actually a solid name, something Chinese netizens could easily remember and foreigners would see as just another entrant to the trend of nonsensical names. However, personally, I think the official Chinese name of “The People’s Search Engine” is pretty damn niu by itself, but sure, “peoplessearch.cn” is understandably a terrible domain name.
But then, the second thing is that they just had to design the name to have a drop-cap “S”, didn’t they? Right, GoSo.cn’s logo is clearly artistically stylized like traditional Chinese ink art. The “G” is a Chinese dragon, the drop-cap “S” is probably a Chinese phoenix (“fenghuang“) without wings, and the two “o’s” have mountains drawn into them. It looks very Chinese and will appeal to Chinese users. But something about that drop-cap “S” just makes me think they couldn’t have not noticed how much it looks like, well, “Google”. The dragon’s tail even creates the visual trick that there are two “o’s” in preceding the drop-cap “S”that easily resembles the second “g” in “Google”. If I cared one iota of not being seen as a copycat, I’d look at this logo and hang my head in shame. But that’s me, and they are…them.
True, intentionally designing the logo to look like “Google” doesn’t actually make too much sense either. The potential negative effects should easily outweigh any positive benefits of any possible mental association with Google they’re trying to plant in user’s minds. Already, the difference between the official Chinese name and official domain name will make it harder for potential users to how to find it online. The visual trick of an additional “o” may likewise inadvertently cause users to remember the spelling of the domain name incorrectly for future visits. Maybe the drop-cap “S” is just some chauvinistic detail to reinforce the subordination of the feminine phoenix to the masculine dragon4.
Conspiracy theories about GoSo.cn’s logo trying to look like Google or confuse itself with other existing Chinese search engines aside, the overall aesthetic and user experience is quite similar to other major search engines. There’s the Google-inspired home page where the search bar figures most prominently, a layout that Baidu and most other search engines all adopted5. Run a search and the result pages will look like a mix of Google and Baidu:
That’s understandable, though, as there are only so many optimal layouts. Search results are listed by relevance in the center with a search bar above and below to run more searches. Different types of search (web, image, blog, forum, etc.) are accessible at the top-left. Options for narrowing and refining your search are on a left-hand column beside the search results (i.e. limiting results to the past day, month, etc.). All very standardized these days. There’s also the whole “let me show you how fast we found these results for you” statistic under the search bar too.
One of the first few things you’ll notice being different is the additional content displayed on the home page. Whereas Google is renown for a spartan home page, and Baidu, Sogou, SoSo, etc. have all followed suit, GoSo.cn has an interesting “what’s happening now” section that rotates/”updates” the latest news appearing on popular Chinese news portals like Sina, Sohu, IFeng, CRI, etc. without refreshing the page, not dissimilar to the “Top Tweets” on the Twitter home page.
What is more interesting, however, begins with knowing that GoSo.cn or “The People’s Search Engine” is actually a venture by People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Oh boy, right? Even so, there’s no reason for anyone to expect certain undesirable search results to any less censored than any search engine accessible in China. Don’t even bother trying. As David Feng testifies:
Of course, this being the official search engine, controversial content is left out. Look for the date of the Tian’anmen crackdown in Chinese, for example, and if you’re in China, you’ll get hits — which are not one bit related to the controversial event. If you’re outside China, interestingly enough, you get your connection to goso.cn cut. Yes, it’s as if the cyberofficials are saying: “We don’t want you US imperialists to go around messing about in our internal cyberaffairs in China” or something.
“The People’s Search Engine” also aspires to “create an authoritative Chinese search engine” as well as “providing trusted search results”. Putting “authoritative” and “Chinese” together in the same sentence just screams “censored” to me, but “trusted search results” is something I consider a lot more interesting with Baidu’s growing dominance since Google’s departure. As we already know, Google no longer wanted to play ball under the Chinese government’s censorship rules. Baidu, on the other hand, strictly complies with the censorship required under Chinese law but is regularly slammed for questionable business practices such as search result manipulation that anyone with enough money can purchase6.
Attacking Baidu’s Weak Spot?
“Trusted search results” could just be typical marketing speak but wouldn’t it be exciting if it could actually be something more meaningful? Something that is directly aimed at competing with Baidu precisely on the issue of how questionable, arguably deceptive, and sometimes downright dangerous Baidu’s search results are? Is anyone keeping track of how often Chinese netizens and mainstream media has criticized Baidu for how they insert paid advertising links at the top of their search results that look nearly identical to the real search results below, leading Chinese users to click on them and finding themselves at often dodgy scam websites or unlicensed drug companies and “hospitals” offering shady medical services?
Baidu certainly remains dominant and is becoming more so, but their search results have definitely become “untrusted” over time, with Chinese netizens taking a skeptical but resigned user-beware approach to using its search engine. Has Baidu created an opening for GoSo.cn to compete on? Will “The People’s Search Engine” actually live up to its name and promises and build a search engine where users can click on results without skepticism or fear and confidence that they’re indeed getting the most relevant page on the internet for what they’re searching for?
Elevating and Emphasizing The Established And Known
Continuing to be hopeful, and searching for things to reinforce this hope, one thing I noticed was that the name of the source website is placed as the second line under the title of each search result on GoSo.cn’s search result page. Other search engines, like Google and Baidu, don’t explicitly list the website’s name, preferring to include the URL of the search result (which includes the website’s domain name) as the last line. Placing the website’s name higher allows searchers to immediately judge a result by its source, by where it is from, by what website it is from. As such, you may skip over a higher ranked search result and opt to click through to a lower ranked search result simply if the lower ranked search result appears to be from a website source you’re more familiar with and thus accord more trust to. In a way, this not only helps users avoid unfamiliar (and thus potentially dodgy) websites but also boosts the importance of “brands” in online search. Could this be a component towards “trusted search results”?
Samples and Previews Build Trust
There’s another interesting difference in how GoSo.cn returns search results that may be part of delivering on its promise of providing “trusted” search results. Whereas Google and Baidu append a “cache” link to the end of its search results that allow you to open a cached copy of the search result page as stored and indexed on each search engine’s databases, “The People’s Search Engine” appends “preview” link. When clicked, this link doesn’t go to a new page but immediately expands a third right-hand column with a preview of just the text contained at the search result. Sure, you’ll miss the pretty images and design of the website that text is from, but it lets you quickly scan more text from the search result to decide whether or not it contains what you’re looking for before you even click through to it.
Website publishers might dislike it as it might rob them of some traffic but GoSo.cn’s users may find it useful. The fact that the preview appears without refreshing the page makes it a quick, seamless, and efficient experience. There’s less clicking of the back button or opening of new windows/tabs7. But most importantly, again, people feel safer when they can preview before committing, even if it is just a click.
It’s still early and all of these small observations may amount to nothing. For all we know, GoSo.cn is going to make a few headlines on announcement and then fade into irrelevance due to sheer incompetence. However, being so closely connected to the Chinese government, a master of remaining relevant despite being plagued with so much incompetence, we’ll just have to wait and see. Despite my misgivings about Chinese government censorship on the internet in general, I welcome more competition in China’s internet search market. Nothing would put Baidu under more pressure to improve its service for its users than another search engine successfully winning people over with a different and better search experience. Competition benefits the end-users, us, and forces those seeking our attention to come up with better ways to engage and deliver rather than deceive and exploit.
P.S. – Interestingly, I can’t seem to open GoSo.cn here in Los Angeles, though various internet monitoring tools tell me that it is actually accessible in America. It simply won’t load and my browser says the server is not found. I haven’t visited the website before so I couldn’t have made any searches that would get me cut off. Now, if I first log onto my VPN, I can open the site. What makes this odd is that the VPN simply allows me to appear as if I’m logging on from some other part of America. Other computers on the internet connection I’m on also can’t open the GoSo.cn. Anyone else having problems accessing this search engine when they ought to be able to?
- If you’ve heard, I apologize for being the bearer of old news. Being in Los Angeles instead of Shanghai at the moment has resulted in me being somewhat disconnected from what’s going on in China. Yeah yeah, there’s the internet to keep me abreast of what’s going on, but there’s just a certain je ne sais quoi that’s making me feel out of step [↩]
- Translates to “search dog” — cute, right? [↩]
- Translates to “search search” — that’s kinda cute too, in a baby talk sort of way. [↩]
- Mwuahahahahahaha! [↩]
- …minus Microsoft’s Bing, which actually ventured to do something different [↩]
- All-around rock star (figuratively and literally) and friend Kaiser Kuo recently joined Baidu as their Director of International Media Relations. As one of the good guys, I think he’ll be doing a lot of good work in the face of many of these criticisms of Baidu. [↩]
- Go Ajax? [↩]