25% of the world's population use the internet according to internet world Stats, and while the USA has 74% of inhabitants online, populous Asia tops the charts by number of users.
China, despite only 27% of citizens being online, has a whopping 360 million users - and that number is growing very rapidly.
On top of this, given the sophisticated nature of mobile communications in Asia and phonetic language realities, broadband internet has somewhat different connotations in a vast country with multiple dialects and languages.
More than three times as many Chinese people have mobile phones as use the internet, so China's search engine wars is focused more and more on well integrated mobile-ready applications for China's TD-SCDMA handsets.
About a billion people - one fifth of the world’s population - speak some form of Chinese as their basic language, and that internet generation has grown up with a giant online advertising and search company with tentacles into many online areas.
In all sorts of ways Baidu has shadowed Google's hugely successful market penetration as the dominant information backbone people rely on to find stuff in Asia. Google.cn (called ??, pinyin: G?g?, a transcription spelled with characters translating to "valley song") is trailing a distant second to Baidu, who are listed as BIDU on the US NASDAQ-100 (a stock market index of 100 of the largest domestic and international non-financial companies). They are financially tiny compared to Google's huge valuation and revenues.
The current high stakes international spat around Google not obeying the tight censorship rules of the Chinese state and proposing to not filter search results has resulted in some very stern Chinese language at a geo political level.
As Larry Dignan discussed on ZDNet this week Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong was asked how China, at a governmental level, would respond if Google actively stops censoring results: "I hope Google can respect Chinese rules and regulations. If you insist on taking this action that violates Chinese laws, I repeat: you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and you yourself will have to bear the consequences."
Apart from this statement sounding eerily like some of the language coming out of the corporate legal compliance units of large global companies in response to attempts to adopt more agile lines of business technologies, the implications for global business collaboration are serious.
The Pearl River Delta and similar areas in China are the new globalized industrial revolution - Chinese companies manufacture a rising percentage of the world's products. The products may be designed in the west for western markets, but then the collaboration with Asian sourcing and manufacture begins.
Cloud computing has produced enormous leaps in agility for small and medium sized western companies, with free and low cost services like Google Apps, Zoho and Box.net, and instant, per-seat access to sophisticated on demand enterprise applications from companies such as Salesforce.com and Workday.
This western constellation of offerings in a business technology universe doesn't extend well to a part of the world with the shortest window for communication in terms of time zone with the west, and with arguably the greatest cultural and language barriers for successful collaboration.
Google are an advertising company experimenting with alpha and beta business application experiments, and rely on their ability to parse your free willed search of the primordial swamp of information that is the internet to extract and profit from meaningful data to pay for their development.
Baidu is in large part a state security apparatus designed to filter out undesirable information and promote content deemed to be desirable. Using Google it's not hard to find similar accusations towards Google, but that is what unfiltered search is all about of course. The Google-like menu of Baidu offerings doesn't extend to productivity apps but appears to have a similar advertising driven business model.
Facilitating open collaboration between different entities worldwide is fundamental to a level playing field for global business. For smaller businesses worldwide findability for sourcing and connections are the lifeblood of getting things done, and this clash of the mega powers at both state and Hi Tech heavyweight levels isn't helping in a deep Western recession.
Intellectual property copyright violations are a huge problem in the People's Republic of China, not least because culturally many people are unaware that infringement is a crime. In many ways this mirrors the constant trawling of the internet in order to find content that can be repurposed for individual profit that has become a hallmark of the 2.0 scavenger net generation in the west, but with far greater profitability through the creation of salable physical objects.
Interestingly the Baidu search engine has an MP3 tab - I searched for the old 70's Eagles song 'Hotel California' ("...you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave..."). It wasn't hard to find free mp3's or video footage of the song but in fairness the same thing is true using Google, albeit without a dedicated MP3 area.
Somebody somewhere in China is probably learning how to play "Hotel California" using the video I found via Baidu of the Spanish speaking girl above as I write this...I wonder how many of them will understand the analogy of the song's theme with the walled garden they live within?