Skip to Content

What Exactly Is Bytedance Searching For?—Data Sheet

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

In a recent moment of clarity, I purged my phone of its more distracting apps. Gone are the addictive scrolling feeds from Instagram and TikTok, the latter of which I downloaded for research on an article, only to find myself hopelessly sucked in by its offering of punchy, short video content.

TikTok is owned by Beijing Bytedance, a Chinese company with a valuation of $78 billion, making it the world’s most valuable start-up, at least right now. Yesterday, the Beijing-based company added a new offering to its suite of over 15 apps–a search engine called Toutiao Search, which some people think is a challenger to China’s dominant search provider, Baidu.

In its quest for profit–or purpose–Bytedance has tackled a number of incumbents. The company launched a rival to messaging service Slack, called Lark, in April; it is reportedly creating a music streaming service to “challenge” Spotify; and it is frequently butting heads with Tencent. The duo traded multiple lawsuits over the past year. In one suit, Bytedance accused Tencent of preventing WeChat users from opening links to Bytedance content and services.

It’s a common goal among Chinese tech firms to trap as many users as possible in their own ecosystem of products. Toutiao Search furthers that purpose by not only returning search hits from across the world wide web–censorship permitting–but by also offering results of content from its own constellation of other apps.

A search for “Hong Kong,” for example, might return travel information about the city but it will also return TikTok videos geotagged with that location.

Baidu, of course, doesn’t describe Toutiao Search as a threat. Baidu App manager Ping Xiaoli told reporters that the company estimates there are two new search engines launched in China every year but that hasn’t prevented Baidu, which holds 76% of the market, from dominating the space for the previous two decades.

I'm inclined to agree and, even if Toutiao Search is a challenger to Baidu’s search supremacy, it’s competing on the wrong battlefield. Advertising sales deliver the majority of Baidu’s revenues, $11.9 billion of a total $14.8 billion last year, but the search giant is busily repositioning itself as an A.I. firm, edging into health care, autonomous vehicles, and more.

Bytedance has a strong hand in A.I., as well. Artificial intelligence powers the algorithms that hook suckers like me on TikTok’s viral video content. But as Bytedance pokes and probes at different industries–it might release a smartphone later this year, too–it has yet to show that it can turn its prowess in A.I. into something more sustainable than fad apps.

I’m not convinced Toutiao Search will be much different.

Eamon Barrett

On Twitter: @eamonbarrett49

Email: Eamon.Barrett@Fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Subtraction by subtraction. Continuing to “optimize” its media portfolio, Verizon is selling blogging site Tumblr to WordPress owner Automattic, reportedly for less than $20 million. Yahoo, which Verizon picked up for $4.5 billion, bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013.

Padding the resume. Rivals of Google in Europe are complaining to regulators there about the search giant’s new job listing service. Some 23 job listing sites sent a letter of complaint to European Union competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Tuesday, Reuters reports.

I’m ready for my closeup. Smartphone sales may be sliding, but smartphone camera sales must be climbing as manufacturers pack more and more into each device. So Samsung is rolling out an updated camera with a staggering 108 megapixels that can shoot 6K video (that’s 6016 by 3384 pixels of action).

Super duper vaporware. It looked awfully cool two years ago, but Microsoft’s “Super Duper Graphics Update” for Minecraft was hard to produce and has been canceled. “Unfortunately, the pack proved too technically demanding to implement as planned,” Microsoft unit Mojang conceded on Monday. In another part of the company, Microsoft also removed its Cortana digital assistant from a prominent “Internet of Things” partner, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat. The thermostat will continue to work with rivals Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Riding downhill. Former Microsoftie, now VC Steven Sinofsky has a fascinating trip down the memory wormhole to trace some of Steve Jobs early thinking about personal computers and the metaphor of the computer as a bicycle for the mind.

Everyone complains about the weather. A few months ago, I hung out with Shimon Elkabetz, co-founder of Boston startup Climacell, to hear about how he and his team were reinventing weather forecasting by drawing on data from all kinds of devices, including cellphones. Now Climacell’s consumer weather app is out and you can get it for iPhones.

I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you want more in-depth coverage of artificial intelligence, don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly Eye on A.I. newsletter. The newest issue comes out later today.

ON THE MOVE

SoftBank’s tech construction startup Katerra hired Paal Kibsgaard as its chief operating officer. Kibsgaard is the former CEO of energy services giant Schlumberger…Health researcher Dr. Andrew Trister is leaving Apple to become deputy director of health innovation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation…The head of Google’s Pixel phone unit, Mario Queiroz, is leaving but will remain with the company and work directly for CEO Sundar Pichai…Tim Willits, who created video games Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein, and Rage for id Software, has left to become chief creative officer at Saber Interactive, best known for World War Z and NBA Playgrounds…Former, short-time acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker was hired as counsel by cybersecurity firm PC Matic.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A tweet of mine blew up recently that noted that the winner of the Fortnite World Cup, Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, got paid more than the winner the Tour de France, the Indianapolis 500, or Wimbledon. But the rise of e-sports has vast implications beyond prize money for one player. Social Capital’s Alex Danco is thinking through some of the implications in a piece titled “The players are the artists; the game is the venue.” It’s no longer just about playing the games.

The biggest question, then, is how will games differentiate themselves and become hits in this new business model? There are a few possible ways. First is an obvious one: be the most fun venue. A game that’s super fun to play will do better than one that isn’t. Another clear way, as this week’s news makes obvious: offer star performers an attractive format for them to make money off their fans, and lots of features to help them do so. Concert venues have figured this out a long time ago. They provide star artists with everything they need to monetize their fanbase (like selling them concert tickets and merch), and in exchange, take a reasonable cut. They also sell the crowd stuff directly, for a big fat 100% take rate. I have no trouble imagining that smart game designers will be able to create these features in a way that’s just as good as Twitch, if not better (since it’s integrated directly into the game rather than layered above).

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Twitch Landed in a Porn Controversy. Why the Streamer Will Be Fine Even If Ninja Is ‘Disgusted’ By Lisa Marie Segarra

When Will Twitter Ban White Nationalists? Civil Rights Leaders Urge the Site to Take Action By Erin Corbett

Supporting LGBT Employees Is a Patriotic Act By Eric Pliner

How Energy Companies Can Ignite the Electric Vehicle Revolution By Patti Poppe

Pebble Beach: What to Expect from America’s Most Prestigious Car Show By Jaclyn Trop

BEFORE YOU GO

We’ve been dreaming about augmented reality as art at least since William Gibson’s 2007 novel Spook Country, but now it’s starting to happen all over. Apple got together with the New Museum in New York City to curate an extensive array of augmented reality art installations across Central Park. But the art is only available for viewing during special walking tours starting from the Apple Store on Fifth Ave and 58th Street.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.