Robin Li: Stay Gold, Or Baidu Would Go Bankrupt Within A Month

摘要: On May, 10th, Mr. Robin Li sent an internal letter to all the employees in Baidu. In the internal letter, Mr. Robin recalled the history of Baidu: how Baidu gradually went away from its value system and become centered around KPI.

(Chinese Version)

Editor’s Note:

The death of Mr. Wei Zexi, a Chinese cancer patient who died after mistaking an ad for an experimental cancer treatment for medically reliable information led to a heated public discussion on Baidu.

On May, 3rd, Zhou Hongyi, founder of Qihoo360, announced that all the paid ads related to medicine and health had already been rid of its search engine. After a while, Wang Xiaochuan, founder of Sogo.com, issued a long article titled “Sogo’s Anwer: Providing Accurate and Authoritative Medical Information”, announcing the launch of “Sogo Doctor”.

On May, 9th, a special investigation team led by the Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs announced their investigative report, which suggests that Baidu has inescapable responsibility over the death of Wei Zexi. Therefore, the investigation team ordered Baidu to reform and rectify itself. To be more specific, the following is the three aspects Baidu is ordered to reform and adjust itself:

  1. Conduct a comprehensive check and rectification over paid advertisements that might endanger people’s life and safety;
  2. Adjusting the paid ranking mechanism, so that search results won’t be ranked merely by how much Baidu has been paid; (The new draft Advertisement Law is to be issued by the State Administration of Industry and Commerce)
  3. Establishing a complete mechanism (such as advance compensation) to protect the legitimate right of netizen.

Baidu responded to the investigation result almost immediately and promised to carry out the investigation team’s orders for reform and rectification from the following six aspects:

Immediately conducting a comprehensive research over paid advertisement service related to medicine and health;

  1. Changing the former paid ranking system into one that is primarily based on creditability and then paid price;
  2. Strictly controlling the number of paid ads in search results (less than 30% each page), especially for the first page;
  3. Highlighting paid ads clearly and warning possible risks;
  4. Establishing an ecosystem for accurate medical information, a rating system for medical contents, improving the quality of medical information together with National Health and Family Planning Commission and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and ensuring that netizen can get access to authoritative and accurate medical information and service;
  5. Strengthening the establishment of an effective netizen right protection mechanism, adding RMB 1 billion to the netizen protection fund, conducting advance compensation for netizen who suffered loss due to paid information on Baidu.

However, this isn’t an end at all. As a matter of fact, many people still worry if Baidu’s really going to change. While the public discussion over the matter became increasingly heated, Robin Li, founder and CEO of Baidu, never shared his opinion once.

On May, 10th, Mr. Robin Li sent an internal letter to all the employees in Baidu. In the internal letter, Mr. Robin recalled the history of Baidu, how Baidu gradually went away from its value system and become centered around KPI.

According to him, he would often wonder in the dead of night:

“Why many avid Baidu users are no longer passionate about Baidu? Why we are no longer product of our product? What’s wrong?”

He would still choke when recalling the time when Baidu just started:

“At that time, every one of us were proud of what we did every day…everybody at Baidu seemed to be up to something then: we wanted to develop the best search engine in the Chinese world.”

In addition, he pointed out that questions such as how to make profit, how to make decisions will test the moral standards of Baidu’s senior executives and employees all the time.

“Without the support from our users and without sticking to value system, Baidu would become bankrupt within a month.”

The following is the full transcript of Mr. Robin’s internal letter, which proved to be written by Mr. Rock himself:

Stay Gold, Stick To Dreams

My dear colleagues at Baidu,

The controversy over Baidu PostBar in January and Mr. Zexi Wei in April led to widespread criticism over Baidu. These incidents surpassed any crisis Baidu has faced before.

These days, I have been thinking in the dead of night that: Why many avid Baidu users are no longer passionate about Baidu? Why we are no longer product of our product? What’s wrong? I can still remember the time when Baidu just got started. At that time, our main goal was to compete with Google for users, but my biggest fear was actually if Google would poach talents at Baidu by offering them a salary two or three times higher that what Baidu could afford at that time. However, it turned out that almost no talents at Baidu went to Google instead. When I look back, everybody at Baidu seemed to be up to something then: we wanted to develop the best search engine in the Chinese world.

At that time, we were so proud of what we did every day. We would often just use the head portrait of a celebrity and illustrate with a simple line below in recruiting posters. For example, we illustrate Mr. Luxun’s head portrait with the line “To translate, or to write and find a real China?”, Mr. Qian Xuesen’s head portrait with the line “To live idly in a villa abroad or to become the ‘Father of Missiles’ back in China?”, Mr. Mao Tse-tung’s head portrait with the line “To surrender to enemies, or to become stronger than them?”… When I told these lines to people now, I still can’t stop choking.

It is driven by this dream we listened to our users, found their needs and gradually grabbed the Chinese market despite the great disparity in strength. It is through holding the principle “user first” that we win users. It is through the selfless efforts of hundreds of thousands of Baidu users, their knowledge, their devotion and their contribution, that we built Baidu PostBar, Baidu Zhidao, Baidu Encyclopedia step by step. That’s exactly what makes Baidu what we are today.

Today, however, I see endless conflicts between different divisions over KPI and senior engineers compromise user experience for commercial interests. At the same time, Baidu’s users have begun to cast doubt on our fairness and objectivity in terms of our paid ads, throw harsh words over our APP promotion strategy, criticize Baidu PostBar and Encyclopedia for being over-commercialized…

Our value system has already been undermined by the insane pursuit for KPI. It is fair to say user experience has been overrun by sales performance. We are increasingly going away from not only our users, but also the very ideal, and goal that guided Baidu when we just started.

Without the support from our users and without sticking to value system, Baidu would become bankrupt within a month.

At present, the influence of Baidu is unprecedented. Information is flowing at a speed faster than ever, and market environment is more complicated than ever. There’s everything on the Internet: good or bad, beautiful or ugly, true or false… There are thousands of people who would make decisions by referring to the search results on Baidu every day, which set higher standards for us. Thus, we have to adapt to the times and take on the responsibility to guide and protect the legitimate interests of our users.

We should be patient to listen to suggestions and criticism from our users on the Internet and actively take on the social responsibility. Should we make profit through this business or that? How should we make profit? What is more important when our senior executives and employees are making decisions?... these questions will keep testing the moral standards of us. Therefore, I ask all of you to become primarily focused on the following few matters in the coming days:

Above all, it’s high time we should re-evaluate the business model of all our products and see if commercial interests undermining user experience? If so, we have do totally change the business model. We shall establish special supervision division to monitor any practice that might undermine user experience and put an end to such practice through a one-vote-down system.

In addition, we need to improve our user feedback mechanism and listen to opinions and suggestions from our users, so that we will update our product based on users’ suggestions and make users’ comment to a product and service a crucial factor to rank search results.

At last, we shall continue to improve the advance compensation mechanism, add RMB 1 billion to the fund and fully support the legitimate rights of our users.

Although these measures might affect our revenue, we’ve got to do this, because we are doing the right thing, something beneficial in the long run and appropriate in consideration of the current situation.

A decade ago, we developed products such as Baidu PostBar, Baidu Zhidao, Baidu Encyclopedia based on the search engine function. Today, I wish we could develop more and more products based on artificial intelligence technologies such as voice search, automatic translation and self-driving, improve the life quality of our users and make this world a better place. To rise from a giant company to a great company, Baidu must be able to not only expand our business scope, but also stick to something that ultimately defines what Baidu is.

Let’s stick to the the “user first” principle, work hard to bring more convenience in people’s quest for information and make our next generation be proud of what we are doing right now.

Robin

May, 10th, 2016

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @TMTpost-Chinese, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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