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ByteDance’s Toutiao on mission to build next generation’s search engine | WISE New Economy Conference 2019

Three points to achieve the mark: technology, content, aspiration.

China’s ByteDance has been on a mission to make its own search engine to challenge the current market dominator Baidu, and the man who’s behind the effort, Zhu Wenjia, newly-appointed CEO of the company’s news aggregator app Toutiao, shared how his company would be approaching that mission on the stage of WISE New Economy Conference which happens November 26 through 27 in Beijing.

WISE is the flagship annual tech conference organized by Chinese tech media outlet 36Kr.

The common wisdom is that search engine is at the center of the world wide web as it indexes all the information online and then distributes the information to users at the request of their queries.

Zhu, during his keynote, first recognized the critical role a traditional search engine plays in building a generic information platform “as a distribution channel,” but went on to upend the search engine’s centerpiece position by claiming they don’t actually produce any information themselves.

Toutiao, the news aggregator app under the helm of Zhu, is one of the most popular of its kind in China with a bountiful supply of information.

According to him, the first generation of search engines was born in the desktop era and neither Google nor any other desktop search produces content themselves. They just provide users with a tool to search for information on the web.

The second generation—the category Toutiao Search falls under—comes into life in the post-desktop era. Netizens are getting used to finding what they want on platforms hosting a large amount of various type of information, like YouTube, China’s video-sharing platform Bilibili, Q&A site Zhihu, and WeChat which has millions of articles published through its Public Account feature.

Toutiao’s CEO Zhu Wenjia talks about “When we talk about search, what are we talking about,” at Wise Conference. Source: 36Kr

When it comes to the search Toutiao has been working on, Zhu said that his company is currently focusing on three areas.

First, technology. He said that although the online search segment hasn’t seen large changes in terms of market share (Baidu still leads the scene since Google disentangled itself from mainland China in 2010), the development of technology is non-stopping. Technologies include natural language processing and deep learning have the potentials to be deployed to new use scenarios as well as help improve the accuracy and experience of search.

Without going into heavy detail on how Toutiao’s search technology works, he briefly mentioned that Toutiao has been developing a unique search architecture internally. “It’s different from any other companies,” he said. Jinri Toutiao is renowned for its personalized recommendation algorithm.

Then an ecosystem of content matters. Zhu claimed that Toutiao currently has 1,600,000 creators and they add 600,000 posts (in various formats) on the platform daily. Pieces (texts, photos, videos) are consumed more than 5 billion times every day.

“This is an open ecosystem. Creators are willing to come as long as the platform treats them well,” Zhu said.

Zhu joined Toutiao in 2015 as an ex-Baiduer and rose to the firm’s CEO for the first time earlier this month, KrASIA reported earlier.

Last week, its parent ByteDance reportedly has become China’s second-largest digital ad player, accounting for 23%, or RMB 50 billion (USD 7.1 billion) of all digital media spend in the country in the first half of 2019, leapfrogging Baidu and Tencent and behind only Alibaba. Its hit short video platform TikTok is currently facing mounting scrutiny in the US over censorship concern.

36Kr is KrASIA’s parent company.