Russians attempt to topple Google

Vietnam's booming Internet scene is littered with failed startups that tried to take on Google and other entrenched U.S web companies. That's not deterring a newly launched Russian-Vietnamese outfit which believes it can unseat the American search engine in this fast-growing Asian market and also contend with a jittery, authoritarian government seeking to clamp down on freedom of expression online.

Like Google rivals elsewhere, Coc Coc, or ''Knock Knock'' in English, believes the ubiquitous search engine doesn't get the nuances of the local language. It says its algorithms make for a better, quicker search in Vietnamese, while its local knowledge means the information served will be more relevant - and hence more valuable.

Coc Coc also flags another possible vulnerability: Google has no office or staff in Vietnam. The company, whose code of conduct includes the phrase ''Don't be evil'', is concerned about the liability it faces over content hosted on its servers and having to cooperate with censorship requests by Vietnam's authoritarian, one-party government.

Unlike other past hopefuls, Coc Coc is not short of cash.

The company has so far spent $10 million, hired 300 staff - including 30 foreigners, mostly Russians - and spread itself out over four floors of a downtown office block in the Vietnamese capital. According to Coc Coc's founders, its investors have $100 million over the next five years to try and get a chunk of the 97 percent of Vietnamese web surfers who currently use Google to switch. They declined to name the investors.

''When I came here, I had some understanding why Vietnam was a good market to beat Google,'' said Mikhail Kostin, the company's chief search expert and like others in Coc Coc, a veteran at Russia's largest Internet company, Mail.Ru. ''But after living here for one year, I understand the language and market much more deeply. I'm sure it's right.''

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