China's Alibaba sets up JV in mobile search

UC Web, a mobile browser company, has a controlling stake in the joint venture

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group is partnering with an Internet browser company to try and topple Baidu's hold on the nation's mobile search market.

On Monday, Alibaba and Chinese browser developer UCWeb announced they had formed a joint venture called Shenma. The company's first product, a mobile search engine by the same name, is already available at sm.cn.

The new business could potentially grow quickly. UCWeb, which owns a controlling stake in the joint venture, operates China's largest third-party mobile browser.

To help promote Shenma, UCWeb could decide to make it the default search engine on its browser app. In China, the company's UC Browser currently lists Baidu, Google, Yicha and Taobao as among the sites that can power the app's search bar.

Shenma, which means god horse in English, was built specifically for mobile devices, and not PCs. It claims to offer more streamlined searching for mobile apps, and better integration with Alibaba's e-commerce services.

Alibaba and UCWeb are joining forces on the project as smartphones are becoming the number one way many Chinese go online. The country already has 500 million mobile Internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

For Alibaba, the joint venture represents another attempt to expand into search. In previous years, the company has launched a shopping search engine called Etao, and a general search engine at s.aliyun.com.

Alibaba's newest joint venture, however, will have to contend with Baidu, China's leading search company. The Internet giant had a 72 percent share of China's mobile Internet search market in last year's fourth quarter, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

Baidu's mobile search traffic will eventually overtake its PC-based search traffic later this year, the company said on Friday. To attract more users, Baidu has been pouring funds into its promotional spending and product research.

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