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WeChat adds new function to expand search engine

The move comes amid significant disruption in China’s search engine industry, with Tencent buying Sogou and ByteDance releasing Toutiao Search.

WeChat launched a new feature on Wednesday, allowing users to search its whole platform ecosystem—including accounts, message history, and mini programs—for any given word. The function, called “Fingertip Search”, works when highlighting a word within the chat interface and clicking a popup search button.

The app will also return results from associated and partner platforms, like Sougou’s encyclopedia, Tencent Video, Kuaishou, and more. WeChat took steps to refine the internal search tool since the end of last year in a bid to connect dots within the app’s enclave.

China digest

The move increasingly makes WeChat look like its own version of the web than a standalone app, much like ByteDance and Baidu aim to do. This is essential in China, where the internet is more fragmented between different tech giants than in the US. For example, neither WeChat articles nor Douyin videos can be found on Baidu. WeChat users cannot find Taobao goods (China’s largest online shop) on the app. Therefore, tech giants compete in the search market to keep users within their apps.

ByteDance released its “Toutiao Search” last year, challenging market leader Baidu.

Tencent (HKSE:0700) announced last month a preliminary non-binding offer to take Sogou—China’s second-largest search engine—private, in a USD 2.1 billion deal. If completed, the deal would see Sogou (NYSE: SOGO) become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tencent.

“Tencent would be able to improve ad performance and potentially benefit from higher revenue in ads, as Sogou’s search contains a large amount of users’ baseline data,” said Ashley Galina Dudarenok, marketing expert and founder of marketing firm Alarice, in an interview with KrASIA.