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The hottest Chinese Internet firms you've never heard of

These sites have at least 100 million users but are largely unknown outside of China

By Michael Kan, IDG News Service
January 17, 2014 01:22 PM ET

IDG News Service - These Internet services pop up on millions of PCs and smartphones every day, selling goods, processing searches and offering the latest in celebrity gossip. But if you're not Chinese, you probably won't recognize their names; they're catering to the giant population of China, and prospering from legions of loyal users.

With an online population of more than 600 million, China is one of the world's most important markets for technology companies, but U.S. firms like Google and eBay have struggled to make it big. Here are six of the top Internet companies in China.

Qihoo 360: Baidu gets all the attention when people talk about China's search market, but Qihoo 360 is chipping away at Baidu's lead. The company is best known for its online security software, which has more than 400 million users, but in 2012 it launched a search engine that now has close to a quarter of the Chinese market.

The company has been embroiled in controversy, however. It had a public feud with Baidu, which accused it of indexing its pages without permission, and it's had nasty disputes with Tencent, one of China's better known online giants. None of that has done much to slow it down, though.

JD.com: Try to come up with a Chinese e-commerce company not called Alibaba and you might struggle, but JD.com has made its mark as an online retailer that operates in a similar way to Amazon.com. Formerly known as 360Buy, JD.com has more than 140 million users who are lured in by its fast delivery times. Customers in Beijing who place an order before 11 a.m. can receive it the same day for free.

JD.com is starting to expand outside China. It now has an English-language site that offers free global shipping for goods over US$49, but don't expect packages to arrive the same day; turnaround time is usually at least a week.

Jiayuan.com: It's not easy to find a date in China; the country's one-child policy has created a gender gap in the population that's skewed toward males. At the same time, women in their late 20s are tormented by press coverage about "leftover women." Enter Jiayuan.com, one of the country's oldest and best known dating sites with 100 million users. Jiayuan means "beautiful destiny" and the site is tailored to users looking for marriage. Earlier this week, the company said it would launch its dating site in other countries.

Netease: The company's main site, at 163.com, is the 15th most visited site in the world according to the Alexa Internet rankings, right behind LinkedIn. 163.com is a major news portal for China, and Netease also claims to operate the country's largest email service, with more than 590 million users across its various domains. Like other tech giants in China, Netease also offers search, online video and social networking. But its real money maker is online games. Some of the most popular are fantasy games it develops itself, but Netease also distributes U.S. titles like "Starcraft II" and "Diablo III."

Tianya.cn: Before China got social networking sites it had Tianya, a BBS discussion forum that launched in 1999. The site remains popular and Tianya estimates it has 200 million monthly users. While China is notorious for censorship, there's an abundance of local news about sex, crime and hypocrisy that Chinese people love to gossip about.

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