MIH Web now trains focus on contextual search

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | June 20, 2007
Unruffled by the lukewarm response to Ibibo blogs, MIH Web continues its conquest-based strategy, with technology firmly in the driving seat

If the Indian

online ad industry were at war, MIH Web would win hands down with its carpet bombing approach. The Indian arm of South African media company MIH has dabbled in everything possible from social networking to vertical search, and gaming to online polls. Has anything hit the jackpot thus far? No, but MIH remains unfazed.

For now, the expansion continues. The Gurgaon-headquartered company recently opened an office and engineering centre in Bangalore, and will set one up in Mumbai in six months. It is also developing 'knowledge search', which will deliver relevant search results categorised by the context in which they appear.

The story thus far: When MIH offered Rs 1.5 crore in cash to bloggers for its Ibibo blogs in December 2006, the industry scoffed at the pay-for-content strategy. That scepticism continues to this day, as MIH struggles with the authenticity of content on its blogs. In a conversation with agencyfaqs!, Ashish Kashyap defended the initiative: "At that point of time, blogs in India needed some evangelising. The best way to do that was to give bloggers some incentive." He trashes doubts about the contest's success, saying that they are adding about 1,000 bloggers per month on Ibibo blogs (though he did not give any definite numbers) and a monitoring mechanism is in place to verify the authenticity of content. Kashyap did add, however, that MIH Web does not want to be perceived as only a blogging platform.

Ashish Kashyap
The company's next point of focus appears to be search. MIH Web's acquisition of Bixee, a job search engine, and Pixrat, a photo book-marking site, soon after its incorporation, had more to do to with technology than the product itself. Bixee.com has a good vertical search model, and MIH Web is counting on that to strengthen its search offerings. "We are looking at adding five to seven more search verticals. In search, our focus is also on hyper-local search down to the area level in a city," adds Kashyap.

Along with the acquisitions came two more products - Newscola, a Digg-style news site, and Apnamarket, a classifieds site. Kashyap calls them "experimental brands", saying that the industry can expect a lot of experimentation from MIH Web over the next few years. "We need to sow a lot of seeds and see which blossom and which turn into weeds," he adds. For now, Bixtree and Pixrat retain their original brand names.

The 'knowledge search' is in the development stage, and the company is yet to decide on the form it will take for users. The search delivers results across Ibibo's blogs, Sawaal, Polls and other products, apart from web results. Whether this feature will be a part of the Ibibo brand or of the existing search engine, Dwaar, is a decision yet to be taken, says Kashyap. However, a hunt is on for an ad agency to brand the service.

As for future acquisitions, Kashyap refrains from naming any, but says that the focus is on online companies. What about mobile? "We may look at mobile acquisitions, but we are never going to sell ringtones and wallpapers. That market is too cluttered. What we could look at are killer applications on mobile." He reiterates that the company's acquisition strategy is to acquire technology. "Our focus is not on building technology, but on investing in it."

Kashyap does not share a clear timeline for advertising its various products, though the upcoming office in Mumbai will perform a lot of sales and business development functions. The company is also working on advertising technology that will deliver specific audiences to advertisers across MIH Web's users. "We are not worried about garnering advertisers. The demand for advertising in India currently outstrips inventory," he adds.

Where MIH Web will go next is anybody's guess. With the backing of South Africa-based cash-rich media giant Naspers, with its revenues of $2.5 billion in 2006, MIH Web doesn't need to worry about finances for some time. What it does need to worry about is how quickly the search for a blockbuster product (like QQ, the widely popular IM in China) yields results.

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