Is Duer a doer?

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Mary Constance Parks called to my attention a short post about a "virtual assistant" announced on Tuesday by Baidu, China's largest search engine.

Five years ago, we looked into the nuances of the name "Baidu":

"Soon to be lost in translation" (7/11/10).

Now Baidu is expanding its services with the launching of this new assistant, "Duer", and Mary is eager to know more about the name.

Here is the article:

"Baidu unveils a voice-activated, AI-based smartphone assistant" (9/10/15)

Snippet: "The program is called 'Duer', which roughly translates into 'Du Secretary'…".

Something doesn't sound right here.  I don't know of any word in Mandarin pronounced "er" that means "secretary".  Furthermore, according to People's Daily and to Baidu itself, the name of the new product is "Dumi", not "Duer", and the former would indeed mean "Du Secretary" — dùmì 度秘, where mì 秘 ("secret") is short for mìshū 秘書 ("secretary").

I asked Kaiser Kuo, who is director for international communications at Baidu, what gives.  He replied:

It's called Duer in English (not my call) and 度秘 in Chinese. They didn't want "Do Me" as the name for a female-voiced secretary, I guess—but something close to "Do Her" was apparently okay!

 It's really not like Siri: It's more about O2O services. You can order all sorts of on-demand services through it, which is not something possible with Siri or Cortana: Reserve a table, order specific dishes for takeout, arrange a dog groomer, etc.

Not knowing what O2O meant, I looked it up and found that it stands for "Online to Offline".  Intrigued, I did a Google search on O2O, from which I learned that, although this is a fledgling type of ecommerce, it is rather vexed, as is Baidu's involvement in it.

"O2O is our industry’s stupidest acronym" (10/3/14) (watch the hilarious GIF of a panda destroying an office)

"Fear and greed drive China’s online to offline commerce craze" (8/6/15)

I'm not sure that I understand the basis for the animosity and negativity toward O2O services.  If you can use them to order dinner or get your dog groomed, it seems like they have the potential to fill a need felt by some consumers.  The question, though, is whether they can really Du what they promise.

[Thanks to Brendan O'Kane]


  1. AntC said,

    September 10, 2015 @ 10:52 pm

    Thank you Victor for the hilarious panda.

    That looks suspiciously like a dual-floppy Macintosh getting trashed. Should fix the year pretty exactly.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    September 10, 2015 @ 11:32 pm

    Glad you appreciated the outraged panda GIF, AntC.

    Reminds me of this:

    "Rage in Kunming" (3/2/13)

    BTW, I had a Macintosh computer just like the one the panda trashes in the GIF. I think it's still up in my attic. And I also had the first "portable" Macintosh computer; it weighed 18 pounds and I proudly lugged it all over the world.

  3. 번하드 said,

    September 11, 2015 @ 11:44 am

    Ah, that panda… I remembered and found it again:

  4. Neil Dolinger said,

    September 11, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

    "It's called Duer in English (not my call)"

    This is a remarkable level of candor for any corporate spokesperson, let alone one representing a Chinese company.

  5. James Bradbury said,

    September 11, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

    Microsoft/Bing’s new AI-based Chinese chatbot has a similarly inexplicable English name (小冰 becomes XiaoIce)

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