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Google’s Schmidt looks to lure app-makers

Lulu Yilun Chen
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HONG KONG – Google Chairman Eric Schmidt picked a Beijing gathering of 3,000 “geeks” for his first public appearance in China in three years as he tries to reach out to the nation’s top applications developers.

The billionaire’s talk, given after last month’s visit to North Korea, highlighted how forums known as Geek Park have become the epicenter of China’s Internet sector, attracting companies, developers and investors looking for a piece of the world’s biggest online market. The two-day event, similar to “TED Talks,” also included executives from startups, Qihoo 360 Technology Co., Baidu Inc. and Sohu.com Inc.

“This is the place to go,” said Xiong Weiming, a partner at Beijing-based venture capital fund China Growth Capital, who attended Schmidt’s talk. “It’s the quickest way to understand who to meet and what to ask.”

Google closed its mainland China search engine in 2010 because of a censorship dispute and began redirecting users to a Hong Kong-based site. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also shut a Chinese shopping service in December, three months after announcing the closure of the local version of Google Music Search.

The company does have a large presence in China through its Android operating system, which runs two-thirds of the smartphones sold there annually.

Geek Park has held about 40 forums since 2010, when founder Zhang Peng decided China needed events to help developers share ideas, find funding and create products for the nation’s online market. China has about 564 million Internet users, or more than the combined population of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“We wanted to create something that would encourage more people to innovate, to feel proud about it, and that would be a platform for communication,” said Zhang. “There used to be a lot of copycats in China and not enough innovators.”

Geek Park events are usually held in a convention center in east Beijing’s Chaoyang Park. The organizer, Beijing Wen De Zhi Yuan Culture Communication Co., also publishes magazines and does industry research.

The free forums are targeted at product managers, developers and investors. Presenters are encouraged to talk about the inspiration for their products and how they developed them, rather than just explaining what the application does, said Jason Ng, the events’ director of operations.

“We want to ensure the people who come to our forums are professionals who will shape the industry,” Ng said. “It’s not uncommon to have people sitting and lying on the floor, even standing outside the conference room to hear the speeches.”

The talks, which are open to the public and posted online, have also included subjects such as the challenges for startups and how social media is transforming the music industry.

“I really appreciate Geek Park,” said Zhou Hongyi, chairman of Qihoo. “China needs such a forum.”

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