Author: Yogi Schulz
The incredibly high value that the stock market placed on Google’s recent IPO has created lots of interest in Internet search. What makes Google so valuable? What makes it different? What are Google’s competitors doing to catch up and perhaps surpass Google? Are there lower-profile competitors that actually do a better job than Google?
Google surpassed its competitors largely by offering more than simple text string matching between the search term we enter and the text found on web pages. Goggle goes further by ranking the relative importance of web pages based on the number of links to those pages. For example, Google will rank NASA web pages, which are frequently linked by technology and space exploration web sites, much higher than similar university technology web pages. Google also tries to differentiate web pages that make casual use of the search term from web pages that contain an in-depth discussion of the search term. For example, when we enter “weather”, it’s more likely that we are looking for a weather forecast than for a passing reference to horrible vacation weather in someone’s online journal.
Another reason that Google maintains high appeal is its policy of clearly differentiating paid results from unpaid results. We’ve all seen the sponsored links on the right side of the Google results page. Other search engines do not distinguish paid and unpaid results as clearly. This situation leaves the surfer wondering to what extent the search results are being slanted by the agenda of paying advertisers.
Alternatives to Google
The incredible success of Google, at 37% market share, has naturally attracted competitors and wannabees.
Many expect Google will face ever-increasing competition from portals such as Yahoo!, currently at 27%, MSN with 15% and AOL with 13% share. The major portals have all strengthened their search capability. Yahoo! did so by acquiring Inktomi and Overture, MSN through Microsoft software development and AOL by installing Google technology.
In addition to the portals, scrappy startups are trying to capture a chunk of the search market.
Mooter, an Australian search start-up, analyzes the successive search terms a surfer will type during a particular search session to narrow in on what the surfer is actually looking for. Mooter also presents a list of concepts that are related to the search term. This list enables the surfer to provide Mooter with more details about the search context, all to improve the quality of the result.
Teoma, in addition to presenting a list of concepts, produces results based on the rankings assigned to web pages by recognized authorities on many topics.
Dipsie is a new search startup that tries to index more of the Web. Search engines like Google, even though they index over 2 billion web pages, are indexing only a small fraction of the available pages. Dipsie aspires to go much deeper and produce richer search results.
The Future of Search
The future of search technology is being pursued actively by Google, Microsoft, W3C and many comparatively unknown startups. Google knows that its success is envied by many. Its hundreds of software developers are working hard to maintain Google’s lead. We can see the results in new products such as Froogle, a shopping service, and in Gmail, a free search-based webmail service.
Microsoft, always a powerhouse when it turns its attention to a particular application, has demonstrated a variety of search ideas in recent years. The one I like is returning a set of clarifying questions, rather than a result, to a search term provided by the surfer. The surfer can then click on the closest question to receive a targeted result set.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is actively pursuing the Semantic Web. This concept is based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF). The long-term objective of RDF is to provide a well-defined meaning to most of the information on the Web. Such clarity will enable better searching and enhanced collaboration.
Startup IceRocket uses an innovative metasearch technology to consolidate search results from the Internet’s top search engines. This approach avoids the surfer having to execute the same search repeatedly at many search engines.
Even Amazon has jumped into the search business with its A9 search engine. A9 consolidates search results from Google, the Amazon web site (no surprise there), reference results from GuruNet and movies results from IMDb.
Google has shown that a better mousetrap can indeed conquer the world. With hundreds of millions of web surfers busily searching and plenty of money to be made, expect more advances in the power of search. Happy searching!
comScore Media Metrix Search Engine RatingsBy Danny Sullivan, Editor, July 23, 2004
Search Engine Watchhttp://searchenginewatch.com
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Yahoo Announces Content Acquisition ProgramBy Chris Sherman, Associate Editor, March 2, 2004