Alibaba, a name that conjures up flying carpets, is an e-commerce conglomerate that controls about 80 percent of the Chinese online commerce market through its Alibaba.com umbrella site.

It is also arguably already the world's largest e-tailer, well eclipsing the likes of Amazon.com.

Alibaba also does business through its Taobao.com (consumer to consumer, similar to eBay) and Tmall.com portals. All together the three sites host hundreds of millions of users sampling the wares of millions of merchants and services. These sites are included in the corporate mothership, which goes by the name Alibaba Group.

Alibaba sites garnered over $248 billion in sales last year -- more than Amazon and eBay combined. The Chinese e-commerce market is the fastest growing in the world, estimated to grow from $295 billion in 2013 to $713 billion by 2017.

Alibaba is now prepping for an initial public offering in the U.S. Once the IPO is completed, Alibaba could rank as high as fourth in the rankings of the world's biggest tech firms, trailing only Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Alibaba intends to begin trading this September with a market value of near $200 billion, which would make it a first-ballot inductee into the IPO hall of fame.

The company was launched in 1999 by businessman and former high school teacher Jack Ma. Alibaba.com was at first a business-to-business website through which Chinese manufacturers could seek out overseas buyers.

It's also a company that has shown a clear willingness to spread its largesse around, sometimes in directions that do not seem interconnected.

In March, for example, Alibaba invested $215 million in Tango, a messaging app. It also joined the fray in pursuit of Snapchat, which just recently spurned a nice offer to be acquired by Facebook. Rather than acquiring Snapchat, though, Alibaba offered to make a multibillion dollar investment in the company, a deal that is still pending.

Taking somewhat of a strategic detour, Alibaba then made a play for online sports memorabilia Fanatics.

Its most recent gambit involves making a $120 million investment in Kabam Inc., a maker of mobile games. Kabam will use the money to finance growth, while Alibaba will exclusively distribute Kabam's Lord of the Rings game in China. Alibaba will also receive a seat on Kabam's board of directors. With the investment in Kabam by Alibaba, Kabam's value may increase to as much as $1 billion.

Analysts have interpreted some of Alibaba's somewhat disjointed investments as an attempt to develop relationships with venture capital companies that are also deeply involved in tech company investing.

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