Alibaba's Taobao launches beta version of new search engine

The e-commerce company launches a public beta of its new Etao search engine

China's largest online retailer has launched a public beta version of its new Chinese search engine Etao, a competitor to sites such as Baidu and Google.

Alibaba Group subsidiary Taobao is releasing little information about Etao. A company spokeswoman described it as a "shopping search engine" but the site goes beyond providing web results simply for retail products.

Etao divides search results into six categories: retail products, question and answer pages, related forums, news and information, general web pages, and images. The general web results are provided by Microsoft's Bing search engine, according to the site.

"If it's just a shopping search engine, users won't be satisfied," said Chen Shousong, an analyst with Beijing research firm Analysys International. "The search engine has to be comprehensive if you want to attract users."

Taobao currently holds a 75 percent share of the online retail market in the country, according to Analysys. To cement its position as the top online retailer in China, Taobao has been working to draw away more users from conducting their online shopping searches through Baidu or Google, analysts say.

Etao will "definitely compete" with China's dominant search engine Baidu, but only in the area of online shopping searches, Chen said.

"It's still hard to break into the search engine market, because it depends on developing the search engine technology to produce good results," he added. "Both Baidu and Google have worked to provide more extensive search services."

Baidu currently controls 70 percent of the Chinese search engine market according to Analysys, with Google a distant second at 24 percent.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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