A Beijing startup company uses sophisticated analytics and powerful Microsoft technologies to bring a great new social app to market, turning it into a business success story in the world’s largest market.
A typical day in the life of a tech-savvy person might go something like this: They open a news website on their laptop to check the latest headlines. They move to their phone to look for new text messages. While there, they open a social networking site, then
another site for weather, and then….
It’s a lot of jumping around. For someone spending much of the day online, sifting through all those sites in a vast sea of web information can eat up a lot of time. Wouldn’t it be better if all of that information was available in just one convenient spot?
Supplying that one-stop information shop was the ambitious goal set by Borgge, a young company based in Beijing. The founders launched the company in 2011 with a focus on building a “smart information channel” to deliver the information Chinese users want and
the social connections they use each day—all in an elegant, easy-to-use package.
Using a powerful set of Microsoft technologies—including the Windows 8 operating system, Windows Phone, and the Windows Azure cloud platform—they launched BanBao. It quickly became a top free application in the Windows 8 Store and the Windows Phone marketplace,
with more than 690,000 installations recorded by the end of 2012.
It’s an incredible rise for a small company in the world’s largest market. Getting there took a lot of drive, expertise, and the help of Microsoft technologies and expertise.
From Multitudes to One
Crystal Li, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Borgge, says her team set out to find a way of culling through the all of the social networking sites, news channels, microblogs, entertainment sites, and other information to bring a new kind of personalized
experience to users.
China has not only the world’s largest population, but also a huge and growing citizenry that is technically savvy. The result is a fantastic array of user-fed information that is orders of magnitude larger than in other countries. And that was a part of the
challenge for Li’s company. For example, there is Douban, a Chinese social networking site with more than 53 million users. Sina Weibo, a microblogging site that is similar to both Twitter and Facebook, reports at least 368 million users. And there’s QQ, a
news and instant messaging service with more than 780 million active user accounts.
“Several market trends drove our development of BanBao,” Li says. “There is the sheer amount of online content created by sites like these and their user communities that needs filtering and organization. There are also changing user behaviors and patterns,
like multifaceted social connections and real-time communications. Plus we saw a need for an open platform that would let us scale the application—but also give users just one easy-to-use platform to satisfy their online needs, instead of making them jump
from site to site for information and social networking.”
Everything At A Glance
The result was BanBao for Windows 8 and BanBao for Windows Phone, which lets people see everything they care about at a glance. It combines social feeds like Douban or Sina Weibo along with an aggregation of more than 150,000 news articles per day, blending
them into an intuitive, easy-to-use social and information portal. BanBao provides a “social graph” that shows users what their friends are viewing and talking about, including blogs, tweets, and commentary. It also provides ways to instantly share news and
other information with connected friends and communities.
“The social connection that Banbao provides helps people focus on sharing content and information with those within their social graph,” says Li. “You can not only view but also participate in activities like sharing content, rating articles, and responding
to friends’ social feeds. What we’re doing is integrating information and social connections all into one place.”
Behind the elegant and intuitive BanBao interface is a lot of sophisticated programming and technology.
BanBao uses intelligent Chinese word segmentation, massive data mining, user recommendations, and machine learning technology to deliver personalized content. This sophisticated information-sorting engine gets smarter about what it delivers to individuals the
more they use it.
“Banbao has built up a lexicon composed of up to 5 million words, compounds, and synonyms,” says Li.
“By using documented similarity detection, Banbao can find the relative content that users want, which saves them time. It extracts key information from articles, and related events are displayed according to the key information. It also aggregates content
into clusters according to a timeline. We think that all of these techniques used together make BanBao better than other news aggregation services.”
BanBao also uses the concept of “personal relevance” to help users customize the information that they want to view and interact with, with categories like “What you know you like,” “What your friends recommend,” “What others like, you might also like,” and
“What we know you like.”
“We call ‘personal relevance’ the crown jewel of BanBao,” says Li. “Not only does it work with the BanBao engine to deliver customized content, it’s a key differentiator between us and the competition because it helps us get to really know our users. That helps
our users—and will help drive our business going forward.”
Help from Microsoft
||The experience of working with Microsoft and building on Windows 8 and Windows Phone was incredibly important for the success of our application
| Crystal Li
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder
The Windows platform and help from Microsoft—including assistance from the Microsoft BizSpark program and Microsoft Ventures Accelerator—were instrumental in making BanBao a reality.
“We decided to build on the Microsoft platform due to the large market opportunity on Windows Phone and Windows 8,” says Li. “Being an early entrant in the Windows marketplace provides a compelling opportunity for gaining significant market share, which is
extremely difficult to achieve with other platforms such as iOS or Android.”
“The experience of working with Microsoft and building on Windows 8 and Windows Phone was incredibly important for the success of our application,” says Li. “Being able to leverage features like live tiles, charms, and gestures gave us another differentiator
for our application that will attract users. And we’ve benefitted a lot from the Windows Store and the potential size of the target audience we can reach through it. It’s a fresh experience for our users, and helps our application stand out.”
Borgge developers were aided by the shared code and skillsets that could be applied to the Windows 8 and Windows Phone versions of the application, which helped save development time and costs. “The BizSpark program was also amazing,” says Li. “It’s a great
resource for technical and marketing support, which helped BanBao become a top app. Launching a new app on these Windows platforms gave us a tremendous opportunity for building our business. It’s supporting initiatives like extending our product line with
a series of personalized and social applications built on our advanced backend engine, and opening our platform to include third-party applications that can run on our services.”