Based in: China
The niche: Its the No. 1 Web site in China and the No. 4 site in the world. With more advanced Chinese-language search technology than its rivals, Baidu returns the most accurate results for Chinas 111 million Internet users. Its doing so well, even Google now has Baidu in its sights. Google sold off its 2 percent stake in Baidu in June so it could directly compete in the Chinese market. Rumors abound that Baidu will respond by leveraging its language advantage to create search sites specifically tailored for Chinese speakers in Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States.
The catch: Government censorship means that Baidu users in China will never get to surf the entire Internet. Searches for Taiwan or Tiananmen Square, for instance, wont return any results. And officials will often block sites that they deem threatening. Also, entertainment companies such as EMI have sued Baidu for helping its users locate pirated music.
Based in: The European Union (EU)
Language: EU languages, including French, German, and more
The niche: Quaerowhich means I search in Latinwill incorporate new technology to allow users to search the content of images, videos, and audio, in addition to the text keywords that other popular search engines use today. French President Jacques Chirac and other European leaders hope the soon-to-launch Quaero will break Americas hegemonic hold over the Internet. In doing so, it could strike a not-so-minor victory for European cultural and technological power.
The catch: With Google, Yahoo, and MSN already deeply entrenched on the continent, there might not be room for another. Besides, the research budget of each of the three giants dwarfs the $115 million total that the French and German governments put up to finance the public-private effort. And surveillance-wary critics are uneasy about the idea of a government-sponsored search engine.
Based in: India
The niche: Many technology analysts expect India will be the next big Internet market, surpassing even China as language technologies improve. A poll last year found that 44 percent of Indians want to find content online in Hindi. But Indias national language does not have a unified font structure for display on the Internet, making searches especially difficult. Raftaar is attempting to fill that void by developing an easy-to-use Hindi alphabet feature on its homepage, allowing surfers to type in searches. Since its launch in January, traffic has been inconsistent, but as more Hindi speakers log on, its popularity could explode.
The catch: India is home to 16 official languages and hundreds of different dialects, meaning that capitalizing on the countrys many Internet users is going to be difficult. Sites capable of handling a variety of Indian languages simultaneously are already on the rise and could be the model for future Indian Internet development. Because Raftaars searches are Hindi-only, it could be left behind.
Based in: United Arab Emirates
The niche: The number of Arabic-speaking Internet users is expected to triple by 2008. The German and Saudi companies behind SawafiArabic for sandstormhope to tap this growing market by challenging the dominance of Google Saudi Arabia, the No. 1 Arabic-language site. Launching later this year, Sawafi is being designed with the language and cultural needs of Arabs in mind. Its initial target audience will be Saudi Arabia, but its founders hope that it will lead a global Arabic Internet revolution.
The catch: Despite predictions of more Arabic-speaking surfers in coming years, Internet penetration remains low in many Arab countries. There are only about 100 million Arabic Web pagesrepresenting less than 0.2 percent of the global total. So far, with few search engines capable of efficiently locating Arabic content, there hasnt been much motivation to create new sites. Sawafi will have its work cut out for it if it wants to reverse this trend.
Based in: Australia
The niche: One of the earliest homegrown search engines, Web Wombat launched more than a decade ago. It exclusively searches sites from Australia and New Zealand, which number more than 20 million pages. The benefit for Aussies and Kiwis is that theyre more easily able to access local sites that may not rank very high on bigger search engines. Last year, Web Wombat applied for an international patent for its Web searching technology.
The catch: Even after 10 years, the demand for Down Unnder-only searches is quite low with only 17 million Internet users in all of Australia and New Zealand. That means Web Wombat still only commands a tiny percentage of Australian searches in comparison to the other big, English-language search engines.
Based in: Russia
The niche: Yandex, the No. 1 Web site in its home country, is the Russian Google-killer. Used by 60 percent of Russians (compared with Googles paltry 7 percent there), Yandex serves 4 million users each day, and attracts more than $1 million in ad revenue each week. Russian President Vladimir Putin used Yandex for a live Internet conference in July, when surfers sent more than 162,000 questions to him. The site has even gone international, opening a satellite office in Ukraine in September 2005. With the number of Russian Internet users expected to double to 50 million by 2010, Yandex is poised to continue its dominance.
The catch: Earlier this year, Google announced plans to open a research and development center in Moscow. Yandex may have raked in a healthy $35 million in revenues last year, but compare that to Googles 2005 global revenues of $8.2 billion. If Yandex doesnt keep up technologically, Russians might make be inclined to google a little more often.