Baidu Takes a Page Out of Steve Jobs’ Playbook

“It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” – Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Steve Jobs responding to whether he did market research for the iPad.

Baidu.com’s (NASDAQ:BIDU) Senior Architect and Chair of Technical Committee, Liao Ruoxue, may be taking a leaf out of Jobs’ book by designing a ‘recommendation system’ to fulfill Baidu’s goal to “define and seek users’ hidden demand, especially when these demands are sometimes too complicated to be explained by users themselves.”

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Liao announced this week that a team of more than 100 personnel has been working for over a year on a recommendation system that has already been implemented on some of Baidu’s services such as Baidu Ting (online music radio), Baidu Zhidao, and Baidu News.

The most instantly recognizable example of a recommendation system is Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). If you’ve ever searched for a book on the e-retailer’s site, you might recall, just under your search result, a display of other similar books that people bought. Most often, people do look through these recommendations, even though the original search never included them.

Baidu’s Q&A site, Baidu Zhidao, is plagued by delays in the display of new entries on its service, sometimes as long as 12 hours, but with the recommendation system, this could be down to less than 5 minutes.

Baidu’s user data base stores hundreds of billions of web pages, while the search engine processes over 100PB data every day. This could likely be a starting point and foundation for more sophisticated applications of the recommendation technology. Says Liao: “When the traditional mode does not work, I think we might make it a product focusing on recommendation.” He further said, “When the technology is ready, it may cooperate with vertical websites like 360buy.com.”

Liao paints a small vignette of how this new technology might work in the future. Suppose you key in “nice movies” you might find search results showing up your favorite Korean movie, for instance, because the search engine knows by now that you have a preference for Korean drama. You could even ask on guidance on how to propose to a girl, and the search engine could well roll out a customized action plan based on both your individual tastes and personalities.

Distinctly Orwellian, if you ask me.

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