Danny Sullivan today writes something of an obit for the brief, glorious phase of Internet industry development in which search played a starring role. Danny has always warned that Google was on track to become a portal in the classic sense, but I think the recent AdSense news, in which Google essentially proclaimed itself a massively parallel ad agency, and the Google Groups news, where Google is playing catch up with Yahoo, has pushed him over the edge. Yahoo’s comments yesterday during an analyst meeting didn’t help – the company stressed that it was “much more than a search engine” – this after a year in which it focused almost entirely on earning cred in the search field.
Becoming a media player did make great sense for Google. It was a natural move to leverage the large advertising base it has. But its role in placing ads on sites across the web has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with organizing information. ….
…”More than a search engine.” It’s almost unbelievable to hear those words spoken, especially from Yahoo, which over the past year has been desperately trying to resurrect its image as a search engine. While I’ve yet to hear Google utter those exact words, its actions speak them loudly.
Is this the end of an era? Yes and no. Yes, in that Google is clearly no longer just a search company, and Danny is right to declare this fact. Google is bigger now, and it has to act like a bigger company. Along with Yahoo, it is one of the first truly “new media” companies of our era. Search is its core editorial product, the internet is its distribution network, and advertising its revenue stream. What’s new is that the company breaks some pretty sacred media company norms – distributing advertising across editorial sites that it doesn’t control, for example, or abstracting traditional editorial judgment behind opaque curtains of algorithmic logic. Just wait until Google starts to distribute video ads attached to net-based television programming. Don’t think it will happen? I’ll bet you dinner it will.
But this is not the end of search as we know it, for search will continue to be the engine driving this industry, as the Yahoo folks took pains to point out during their analyst day.
Still, it is the growth potential of search that is receiving the greatest focus at Yahoo these days. The company has a two-pronged strategy for going after the local market that it plans to introduce soon: a primary emphasis on major retailers and other large businesses in a region, and the creation of a locator page for small businesses that do not have any online presence.
“It is a nice acorn to plant for the future,” Meisel (head of Yahoo subsidiary Overture) said.
A significant part of the growth in search is coming from existing Internet users, who are doing more and more searches each day and driving commercial opportunity and demand for innovation. Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s senior vice president of search, described this as an unprecedented time, given the growing interest of computer users and the influx of talented engineers with advanced degrees focusing their energies and talents on helping people find relevant information as quickly and easily as possible.
“As fast as search is growing, there is an enormous opportunity ahead of us,” Weiner said. “As good as all of us believe search results are, we are only delivering high-quality results about half the time as an industry. We have only scratched the surface. We are going to get much better at that.”
Should either Google or Yahoo take their eye off the ball again, there are plenty of entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of their missteps. Search has taken its place as an enabling application to the most important new medium in the history of media. And that’s a pretty big deal.