As of 2004, Bangladeshi young people began blogging online. Since Somewhereinblog, the first Bengali blog, appeared in 2005, the number of Bengali blogs has increased. People used to write various blogs on a wide variety of topics back then, including contemporary, politics, philosophy, and the liberation war. Along with blogs, several national news media also started increasing their presence online. Prothom Alo, the country’s most popular daily newspaper, launched its website in 2006. Besides, the country’s first online based news portal BDnews24 started operations also that year. Thanks to blogs and news portals, the amount of Bengali content online is also increasing. Additionally, since 2008, Facebook has become more popular among internet users in the country along with blogging. Meanwhile, as the number of internet users in the country increased, WiMax service providers like Banglalion and QuBee started operations in 2009.
As the accessibility of the internet increased, online news portals also started serving different content to the users. Even though there was a large amount of Bengali content online, searching in Bengali language was difficult. Meanwhile, in 2012, the country’s mobile operators started launching 3G services, due to which mobile internet adoption in the country increased rapidly. Starting in 2013-14, the number of broadband users in various cities of the country increased along with mobile internet, thanks to the efforts of area-based ISPs. Although Google was the leading search engine worldwide, searches in the Bengali language often produced irrelevant search results and website suggestions. In 2009, Ruhul Amin, who was an Assistant Professor of the CSE Department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), Sylhet, had the idea to create the first Bengali language search engine.
This was at a time when the amount of Bengali language content on blogs and news portals was growing and the number of internet users in the country was also increasing. Following which, some students from SUST’s CSE department joined him in a project to develop Bangladesh’s first search engine. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, a former professor of SUST was supervising the project as the director. Being run as a university-based voluntary project, the project suffered from a developer crisis from the start. However, the project was finally completed in 2013 with the dedication of 11 students from SUST’s CSE department. Grameenphone IT supported the financing and distribution of the entire project during that time.
On April 13th, 2013, the beta version of the first search engine in the country, “Pipilka,” was launched at Rupsi Bangla Hotel in Dhaka. In the search engine, the user could search in both Bengali and English languages. According to Ruhul Amin, who worked on the technical side of Pipilika, “It was focused on Bengali data analysis and search, and a new Bengali dictionary was added to the search engine for Bengali searches.” Because of this, even if the user searched with the wrong spelling, Pipilika could automatically execute the search with the correct spelling and provide relevant search results to the user.
Initially, the search engine had features like finding any kind of news, blogs, and looking for data in Bengali Wikipedia and national e-database. Moreover, the Pipilikas news section was divided into three categories: general search, location-based search, and category-based search. However, location-based and category-based searches were only open for the Bengali language. In November 2013, several new features and services were added to the search engine.
Notable two of which were “top news, and ‘through the lens’ photography feature.” Pipilika’s top news feature offered a collection of news articles from various newspapers sorted by their relevance and chronological order. Additionally, it had a system to verify the authenticity of the news and provided weather reports as well. Apart from this, the country’s premier photography society ‘Through the Lens’ published various images on the search engine to inspire all budding photographers in Bangladesh. In addition, a 2014 report said that the developers also had the plan to add features such as reading comics and listening to radio and music.
Later, in 2016, features like Pipilika’s latest news, library, shopping, job search, Bengali spelling correction and Bengali dictionary were also added to the search engine Pipilika. The search engine ran roughly until 2021, but is now completely shut down. But what is the reason that the country’s first search engine Pipilika failed?
When talking about search engines, Google’s absolute dominance will come. According to Statcounter data, Google is at the top with about 93 percent (92.83%) of the global search market share as of January 2023. However, Google’s dominance in the search market has not been achieved only by the Google search engine. According to a 2018 report by Visual Capitalist, Google.com accounted for about 63 percent (62.6) of the Internet’s total search market, while Google Image Search was in second place with about 23 percent (22.6).
Besides, in the search market, more than 4 percent (4.3) of searches were on YouTube and more than 1 percent (1.3) of searches were on Google Maps. And through these Google products, the company has been dominating the world’s search market for the past decade. However, despite Google’s dominance in the global search market, the situation is quite different in China and Russia. Baidu leads the market with more than 60 percent (60.87%) share in China. On the other hand, Yandex is currently in the leading position with about 54 percent (53.91%) market share in Russia, surpassing Google (43.72%).
According to the New York Times, over the past 25 years, Google has created a huge index of 600 billion web pages, which is the largest search engine index in the world. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine Index is the second largest in the world with 200 billion web pages. These two companies alone are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to maintain and develop their own search infrastructure. Having a dedicated search index is important to compete in the search engine market.
However, unlike tech giant Google or Microsoft, creating a dedicated index is a difficult task for any company. Because the Internet stores so much information, creating an index from those information requires a lot of storage and computing power. Both companies have several data centers in different locations around the world to meet such storage and computing power needs. Additionally, setting up such a data center requires huge investment. Due to which, most of the world’s search engine companies do not develop their own index but aggregate search results from Bing or Google and show their user base. Search engines like Yahoo, and Ecosia use Bing’s search results, and DuckDuckGo uses search results from both Bing and Google at the same time.
Bangladeshi search engine Pipilika originally started as a university project, where some students worked on the project as volunteer developers. As it wasn’t a commercial project, there was not enough financial backup for Pipilika at that time. Although Grameenphone was working to finance the project in order to develop it as a revenue-generating medium, it didn’t achieve any success as expected. On the other hand, even if the project was run commercially, it would not be possible for Pipilika to get sufficient funds to build and maintain its own search engine infrastructure. Since 2006, Google has been able to monopolize the search engine market.
At that time, it was impossible to get investment for a competitor search engine of Google. On the other hand, Pipilika was created only for Bengali speakers. A search engine targeted for such a niche market would not be commercially viable. One of the reasons behind China’s Baidu and Russia’s Yandex competing with Google is the government’s strict monitoring of the Internet in both countries and the prohibition of Google services in those countries. But the government of Bangladesh has not hindered the operation of Google to keep the democratic rights of the people intact. Because of this, Pipilika also had no chance of becoming a viable business. Besides, after the launch of Pipilika, there was no promotional activity about the service. Apart from the few tech enthusiasts in the country, most of the common people did not know about this project and no marketing and promotional activities were run to inform them.
The main challenge for any search engine is to motivate users to change their default search engine. Google and Microsoft have their own browsers like Chrome and Edge, where their own search engine is provided by default. And those browsers that do not have their own default search engine have agreements with companies like Google and Microsoft to be the default search engine. Google paid Apple nearly $15 billion in 2021 to keep Google as the default search engine for their Safari browser. Also, tech giant Google is paying $450 million to use Google as the default search engine for Mozilla’s Firefox browser, another browser company.
Even tech giants like Microsoft, which are ahead of Google in terms of valuation, cannot compete financially with Google in the race to be the default search engine for other browsers. Meanwhile, users prefer Google as a search engine because Google search engine is used as the default search engine in most of the world’s popular browsers. The same picture can be seen in the case of Bangladesh. Among the most popular browsers in Bangladesh, Google’s own browser Chrome is at the top position. Besides, Google is the default search engine of Opera Mini, Firefox, UC Browser, and Brave browsers, which most Bangladeshi use. If we consider it from that point of view, there was no chance for Pipilika to be successful against Google in the Bangladeshi market.
Along with such aggressive practices, Google has managed to create a monopoly in the market by creating its own ecosystem. After starting with Google Search, the company introduced Gmail in 2004, Maps in 2005, Calendar and Docs in 2006, and acquired video streaming platform “YouTube” in the same year, Google Chrome in 2008, and introduced the world’s first Android device with which we are more or less familiar. Google Chrome browser is the default for Android devices and users also prefer the default chrome browser due to various mobile-centric features of the browser.
Very few users use any other browser instead of Chrome for Android smartphones. In fact, due to its dominance in the search engine market, Google could simultaneously attract a large number of users by releasing a new product or service every time. As users became accustomed to using Google’s various products and services, the company also had access to the data of millions of users at the same time. Using which the company has further developed its own products and services where functionality, as well as user experience, has been emphasized. As a result, over time the company has been able to create an ecosystem.
In fact, regardless of the device a user uses around the world, most users use at least one product or service from Google. Pipilika, on the other hand, started as a university project and initially focused more on providing search results only. Besides, the search engine also added features like job search and shopping in addition to features like top news. But to Google’s ecosystem, these features were not really successful that could attract users towards it.
In the early 2010s, Google was not able to provide relevant results in Bengali, but by then the company was working on building that infrastructure. At that time, Bengali was ranked 7th in the world as the language of more than 25 crore people, but most of them did not have internet access then. At that time, the number of Bengali-speaking people in India was about 9 crore, and where 3G service was launched in 2009. On the other hand, 3G service in Bangladesh started in 2011 despite the fact that Bangladesh is a country with the largest Bengali-speaking population in the world.
Meanwhile, as the Bengali-speaking user base continues to grow, in 2015 Google, in collaboration with the ICT Ministry of Bangladesh and the Google Developer Group (Bangla/Dhaka), ran a campaign where 7 lakh Bengali words were added to Google Translator. Which ultimately helped Google greatly to improve the search engine algorithm in Bengali. Meanwhile, to solve the problem with relevant results in Bengali language, in March 2017, Google launched Knowledge Graph in Bengali language.
As a result, if you search for anything in Bengali language, it starts showing relevant results from that keyword. In addition, from August of the same year, Google launched a voice search system in a total of 8 Indic languages, starting from Bengali to Urdu, Gujarati, Kannada, and Malayalam, to make searching more efficient and convenient for their users. Even now Google can recognize the regional language of Chittagong, Bangladesh. Such convenience and relevant search results are available from Google, so there is no need to use a separate search engine like Pipilika to search only in Bengali language. Due to which, at some point the Pipilika search engine was shut down.
There are numerous services in the world that have had to compete with Google’s products and services, and have accepted defeat. For instance, Ridmik is a well-known app that allows users to write in Bengali on their smartphones. However, it is currently facing tough competition from Google’s own GBoard. While GBoard may not be as user-friendly as Ridmik at present, it remains to be seen how Ridmik will fight against a giant like Google in the future.