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Chinese Net searches evolve

A Taiwanese firm rolls out a Chinese-language search engine that it says operates without add-in software.

Taiwan-based firm SinaNet has launched a Chinese-language search directory it says operates without the need for add-in software.

SinaSearch has a format similar to U.S. search services such as Yahoo, Lycos, and Excite, where the site presents a directory of topic links. The user can click on any topic link and access a list of specified sites.

Additionally, SinaSearch also has a search bar, which can generate lists of Chinese links when given an English keyword, the company said.

SinaSearch uses image files for Chinese characters, instead of the commonly used internal codes that require Chinese-language conversion software to be deciphered. As a result, one can read the site using only a Web browser, with the option to convert the text into code if the user has the necessary software. Currently there are two Chinese character codes: Big 5, for scripting traditional characters used in Taiwan and Hong Kong; and GB, for scripting simplified characters used in mainland China.

The directory does not solve the overall issue for users looking to access content in Chinese, however. Although users do not need software to read the directory site or use its search function, the directory nonetheless links to sites that are written in character codes.

Developers also still face the challenge of trying to bridge the gap between two written forms of the Chinese language, as well as its inherent loopholes.

"There hasn't been a real solution to search Chinese characters," said Xueni Ye, a Chinese language software developer with International Communications in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Ye pointed out that the main problem companies face is how to appeal to a Chinese market that uses two different written forms. Chinese search engines typically focus on one style, instead of trying to encompass both.

Though developers expect the demand for Chinese search engines to skyrocket as more people in mainland China get wired, the issue now is how to design an engine that can be used by any Chinese reader, whether in traditional or simplified characters.

"Their biggest issue is between Taiwan and mainland China," Ye added. "Right now, the amount of Chinese Web sites is not that significant, but numbers are growing. [Search engine developers'] biggest problem is how to leverage a solution between two codes for two kinds of writing."