Baidu wants its XiRang platform to be the metaverse catalyst

A thousand people have a thousand different ideas about the meta-verse. But most technologists agree that Metaverse is the next chapter on the Internet. Such a consensus stops, however, as there are many different ways of thinking about these “chapters”.

A camp focuses on the method of interactions. The first chapter is the Internet for reading text and viewing images. The second chapter is the mobile internet with the consumption of videos and the use of various applications. Chapter three is Metaverset, a three-dimensional, fully immersive real-time Internet experience.

Another camp is centered around the idea of ​​value distribution and relies on blockchain technology. Chapters 1 and 2 are both centralized internet of informationwhile Chapter Three, the so-called Web 3.0, is decentralized valuable internet.

The first chapter is about read-only web portals plus personal and therefore semi-centralized websites. The second chapter is about reading and writing (think blogging and social media), and mostly centralized by major technology platforms. Web 3.0 is read, written and clean, where data belongs to the users, facilitated by the magic of blockchain.

For the Chinese search engine giant Baidu Inc. all these different ideas are welcome and accepted. Unlike other technology leaders such as Meta and ByteDance, who are pushing for their own visions of the meta-verse that I discussed earlier, Baidu is a technological road diagnostician.

“We can provide technological capabilities in the API (application programming interface) and SDK (software development kit) needed to create a dynamic metaverse so that everyone can move forward and not have to spend energy on performing these basic tasks.” Ma Jie, vice president of Baidu, who also leads the company’s metaverse project called XiRang, told me in a recent interview. “Our position is very open.”

Ma clarified a fundamental confusion about Baidu’s XiRang project. Last December, the Beijing-based company held its AI developer conference in a futuristic virtual world created by Baidu called Creator City on the XiRang platform.

Many media outlets equated Creator City with XiRang, which was mistakenly described as a mobile app. In fact, XiRang is an invisible network of technological possibilities that Baidu is developing to support the development of the metaverse. Creator City is just a showcase that Baidu used to build the XiRang platform to demonstrate what XiRang is capable of.

Think of XiRang as a SaaS provider (Software as a Service), but for the meta-verse. Developers and content creators can license or purchase these options to help their metaverse projects, whether it’s a metaverse gaming company looking to create a new metaverse game or a metaverse social networking app hoping to develop their product.

XiRang for the meta-verse is like Baidu Brain for artificial intelligence. Baidu Brain, the company’s open AI platform, offers hundreds of basic AI features and hundreds of thousands of models to developers. XiRang similarly wants to be the catalyst for metaverse builders.

How does Baidu plan to make money with this rather laid-back approach? The company is basically doing the hard and perhaps underestimated work. In addition, the SaaS track in the Chinese technology market is notoriously difficult for a number of idiosyncratic reasons.

Ma’s answer is that reasonable profits are enough. After all, many of the metaverse’s technical challenges such as rendering layers, cloud rendering, VR headset issues like weight and dizziness, limitations on the number of avatars hosted in a virtual environment, and many others still require a long time to resolve. .

Being early, comprehensive (in terms of technological capabilities) and patient could help Baidu. Not being greedy is another benefit. But whether Baidu’s metaverse strategy will work in the end is anyone’s guess. At the very least, the Chinese search engine is unique in its metaverse strategy.

Below is an edited Q&A from our conversation.

Nina Xiang: How did Baidu formulate its metaverse strategy?

Min Jie: Baidu’s VR team has been working on VR since 2016. At the start of the Covid pandemic, we thought it would be useful to use our VR technology to potentially facilitate major virtual events. We started the XiRang project in 2020, and back then it was not called the meta-verse.

I personally think the metaverse could be a promising Web 3.0 candidate. It does not matter what names we use to describe it. We can see the development of computer interactions, and there are clearly great opportunities in the next innovation of user interaction and immersive experiences.

What is XiRang trying to do?

It is the metaverse’s infrastructure. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to build a website, you had to learn how to buy servers, set up things like software stacks, and so on. It may take months for these items to be ready.

But now there are many ready-made services, content and templates to help create a website very quickly. XiRang wants to do the same: provide these core technology capabilities to help others build the metaverse.

You mean, like, saltines and their ilk, eh?

Not exactly. We want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the meta-verse. It is closer to the infrastructure layer of today’s IT ecosystem.

XiRang is an invisible platform. Creator City, a virtual world where we held our developer conference last year, is really just a showcase for XiRang’s capabilities.

We wanted to show developers that they can use XiRang’s tools, software, and other features to create their own virtual worlds. Our options include avatar, gestures and interactions, natural languages, multimedia viewing and many more. We will develop other options such as cloud rendering to propel the industry forward.

So it’s similar to what Meta does? Meta also does many of those things.

Our positioning could be a little closer to the infrastructure layer. For example, Meta builds suites of Horizon products for various purposes. But for us, one creative city is enough. We want other partners to come and build their own metavers to enrich this ecosystem. After all, building virtual worlds is not our core skill.

If XiRang wants to be AWS for the metaverse, does that mean partners using XiRang’s capabilities should use Baidu Cloud?

We have an open attitude. XiRang is the catalyst for the meta-verse, and we will not ask people to link to Baidu Cloud. But we will deliver all of these other types of infrastructure capabilities and services, from the cloud up and including our AI capabilities. We also want to help our partners achieve interoperability and interconnection.

So it will not be a centralized platform like Facebook?


So how do you plan to make money?

It is good for us to make a reasonable profit in one place. One business model in the age of the internet is to support small and medium-sized developers and then hope to get a piece of the pie when they grow up and start making money. But for larger companies with more capabilities, the business model may be more attractive.

We can grant licensing permits, technology collaboration or make joint investments to achieve a reasonable return. We can use different methods and be flexible. But it may be too early to consider that this previous model now supports small and medium-sized developers.

Sounds like a SaaS business model?

Yes, but it is not exclusively a Saas business. SaaS is a lightweight business model. But if anyone wants to have a custom setup so they can have more control, we are happy to provide the more comprehensive solution.

It’s been a while since XiRang’s Creator City caught the attention last year. Are there any platform updates recently?

Last December, at our developer conference in Creator City, 100,000 people attended the meeting at the same time.

In fact, I want to clarify this point. Most virtual worlds in the United States can only host less than 100 avatars in a single virtual environment. That is a huge discrepancy from 100,000 people. My understanding is that many of the 100,000 people sitting in the conference center inside Creator City could not interact with those around them.

Yes, what we meant was that we could host 100,000 people on a set of servers. You might think that all these 100,000 people were on the same server in connection with the games.

Today, when people play games, they often have to choose a server. People on different servers could not interact with each other. What we did was put the 100,000 people on the “same server” (even though they still have to be hosted on a set of servers) so they could all interact with each other. We have designed our own framework to do this.

What impact will China’s privacy and data security laws and a stricter regulatory environment have on the meta-verse?

This is also where we bring value. We will eventually become an international operation and we will have to carry out data compliance work in different jurisdictions. Despite differences in laws and regulations in different countries, there are also commonalities.

As a technology supplier, we can also help you with this compliance work. This type of work can be a burden for many content creators. But we can learn and develop our expertise in this area as we expand to different countries.

Can you share something about overseas expansion?

We recently set up a company with Meta Media to build a virtual city called YuanBang using our XiRang platform. Blue Focus, which builds its virtual universe based on XiRang, is also expanding abroad. We are also in discussion with them on this aspect.

We also spoke with tourist agencies and economic development offices in several countries to see if we can bring some of their sights and culture to Chinese consumers via the meta-verse.

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