The last time I talked about this subject is all the way back in April 2007. The 2 parts article is as follows:
That was when Google got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Sohu developed a Chinese Internet Input system called Sogou Pinyin. Google stole their technology and was caught.
At the time, I thought Sohu shall make a big deal out of it and even go to the length of suing.
Sohu did try to make a PR battle to milk their product.
But surprisingly, they didn’t push for Sogou search engine. They pushed the Sogou Pinyin system.
It seems they valued Sogou Pinyin system more than they valued Sogou Search engine. That really puzzled me.
First, we all know how much profit a great search engine can bring. Secondly, the Pinyin system is going to be free. There is no way Sohu can ever charge for it.
In addition, there is no way you can put ads on it. Users wouldn’t tolerate it.
Interestingly, both Google and Tencent seem to believe in this type of product.
Google Pinyin method is continually being worked on. Actually, Google is doubling their effort to coming out with patches and upgrade to make their product better.
Now, Tencent is going to come out with their QQ Pinyin soon. From the early reviews, it is clear that Tencent had spent a lot of effort to develop this product.
Sohu is continuing developing the Sogou Pinyin. They just came out with the version 3.0 final beta. The final version should be out any day.
The following is a link of a comparison review between the Sogou Pinyin v3 beta and QQ Pinyin Beta:
The result is really not that surprising. QQ is an excellent product considering it is brand new. Actually, it is not even a version 1.0 product. But still, it is behind Sogou Pinyin in pretty much every aspects.
I can’t find any survey on this segment. But from anecdotal evidence, it seems it is a two headed horse race between Sogou and Google, with Sogou Pinyin (possibly significantly) ahead.
But QQ Pinyin could be a big threat to Sogou Pinyin. As the dominant instant messaging platform, QQ Pinyin could be on every computer in
For Sogou Pinyin to stay ahead, Sogou have to have functionalities significantly ahead of QQ Pinyin for average users to stick with Sogou.
Finally, why are all these big shot companies spending so much effort on a product that would never make any money?
I don't really know. But I can speculate...
First, it has some tangential benefit. A user might want to customize the Pinyin so it includes individualized characters (such as his or her name), his preferred skin, etc. To do that, the user has to get a Sohu user name and password. This Sohu user name can then used across all Sohu products (Sohu’s PC games, Sohu websites, etc.). Thus, it become easier to use other Sohu products. That is, the Pinyin method become a gateway for a new user to use Sohu's other products.
Since it is required (at least highly preferable) that users is connected to the internet, who is to say that the characters the users typed in are not being send back to a Sohu database. In addition, who is to say that these Pinyin system won't send where the users being back to a Sohu database (it might actually provide some useful functions to the users. As more information is sent back to the company's mainframe database, it allows for the predictive alogorithm to more accurately customize for that particular user. It might result in more accurate prediction of what the users might type later).
A database like that could be extremely useful to a company like Sohu because it gives them a snapshot of the behavior of the Chinese internet users. In addition, if they want to sell these information (as long as they don’t keep track of individual user’s behavior), I think it will be an extremely profitable business.
Again, the above is purely my speculation. This input system war reminded me of the browser war between Netscape and Microsoft back in the 90s. Microsoft won that war, but they never really monetize the Internet Explorer. It will be interesting to see who will be the winner of the Chinese input system war, whether the winner can monetize the product, and how can it be monetized?