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Date Submitted: 11/27/2011 07:59 PM

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Lately, there has been much discussion about Baidu’s problems re the disclosure that they were accepting payments from makers of less than consumer-friendly products for higher rankings. David Wolf has an excellent posting about how Baidu has hurt itself in the public relations battle, with some significant assistance from CCTV and Google. According to David, Google China has positioned itself to benefit from some advertisers who eschew Baidu’s former position of accepting money for high positioning, without taking a second look at some of those companies which paid for those high rankings.

On one level, Baidu is a victim of its own success. Search engines are really mapmakers: they show what’s in the neighborhood. In its early days, before Baidu became pervasive, it may have been alright to take money for businesses to show up on the map without caring too much about the reputation of the business. After all, search was a comparatively new thing, and Baidu, not yet public, wanted to grow as fast as possible, both in terms of its indexes and database, and in financial terms. But now, everyone knows what a search engine does and expects it to basically tell the truth. And if it doesn’t, they are shocked and outraged. (Whether this is real or feigned shock and outrage is another story. We’ll get into that later.) Unfortunately, Baidu’s management failed to take into account their own success, and failed to make the transition to a more open, fair, ethical and transparent model before it became a full-blown shitstorm. Making the change would have hurt the company’s earnings, something Wall St. analysts would not have taken to kindly, so they were stuck. Instead of acting proactively, they took the other path, which was waiting for something to happen to them.

And it happened.

So does this mean the beginning of the end of Baidu’s erosion as search engine market leader in China? Actually, it’s not that simple.

Ultimately, it depends on Robin Li, Baidu’s...