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Search, R.I.P.?

By - May 14, 2004

rip.gifDanny 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.

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10 thoughts on “Search, R.I.P.?

  1. Scott Rafer says:

    Isn’t there a parallel argument where Google’s portalization merely makes room for a few new search engines, focused completely on a next-generation of timeliness, relevance, et al?

  2. I have to agree, it doesn’t look like the big G is going to bet the company on the next generation of search. My hope was that they would become a technology company, and really turn the engineering of search into a viable business.

  3. liam says:

    They say there is always a bigger fish in the pond, and you’ll end up a someone’s meal unless you do something about it. Search isn’t dead, but a new war will emerge. The “network providers” who provide a free taxi journey to the afore mentioned media companies are getting fed up of the commodity business of supplying IP pipes. They know “almost everything” about you and a lot you don’t even think about (mobile, cable, land line, ADSL, Dialup – oh yes) and thats enough “data points” on you to deliver a service that the current “media” R&D labs are craving for. Telco’s vrs the big 3 – intersting battle ahead, fighting for the foundations of the “taxation layers” of the digital age.

    Sorry for the slightly European perspective ~ but thats just our nature

  4. truely sad,

    but balloon animal animals are happy.

  5. Kendall S. Willets says:

    There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. … You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…

    And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. …

    So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

  6. Kendall, what’s your point?

  7. Kendall Willets says:

    Well, I had been thinking about this point myself — where does the decline begin, etc., and Thompson’s high-water mark quote came to me, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I was surprised by all the references to the Mountain View area, so for laughs I grabbed the preceding two paragraphs as well (it’s on Search Inside the Book).

    There’s a certain moment we’ve reached where Google is no longer on the way up. We haven’t even figured out where the turning point was, but the movement now seems to be in the opposite direction.

    Apologies for not making the attribution more explicit ;-).

  8. pb says:

    I’m comfortable with Google going the portal direction. I’m locked in to Google now not because the search results are good, but instead because of the search box’s functionality (e.g., calculatior, FedEx, airline status, dictionary). Google’s doing email better than Yahoo. They should easily be able to do groups better. I don’t see the problem.

    Yahoo > Excite, Lycos, et.al, people! Might not want to forget that Yahoo is a $36b company, growing nicely with good financials.

  9. Thanks Kendall, great meld of search engine and psychedelic road trip. Makes me think it’d be interesting for someone to take shrooms, search on Google for 2 hours, then write it up in a blog. John?

  10. balloon art says:

    I think that as the internet continues to grow largers, the harder it will be to find what your looking for. Five years aho, you could search for topic you were resaerching, like past nobel prize winners. now everything is so polluted by SEO Tricks and Gimicks it is hard to find anything of use amoung the hay stack of junk.