Late last week – and it was certainly an odd week for all sorts of reasons – I had the honor of appearing before the SDForum’s Search SIG in Mountain View, on the Microsoft Valley campus. First I was interviewed by Dan Farber about the book (here’s Dan’s write up), then I got to interview four entrepreneurs in the search business – folks from Trulia (real estate search), Truveo (video search), Healthline (medical) and Simply Hired (jobs). Om has more on that here (though I have a rant in me about the “exit” – more later).
As usual, Dan focused his write up on what proved to be, for me anyway, the most interesting comment of the night. It came from Simply Hired CEO, Gautam Godhwani, when I asked him if he feared Google. “Google does search very well, but we have yet to see Google do applications well,” was his reply.
Interesting. As I thought about that, it struck me that what we are seeing right now is indeed the evolution of search companies from their roots providing a single service – one thing, done well – to a application suite that does many things. What does that mean, exactly?
Well, in Google’s case anyway, let’s give credit where credit is due. Google does do a few applications pretty well. Gmail, for example, is still considered by most to be a very good mail application. Blogger, while not for pros, is also a pretty successful application (“AOL for blogs” is how one pundit put it at Web 2.0).
But neither of those are really executions of search as an application – even though Gmail has really good search. Huhm. What Godhwani was saying is that in the search field, applications are the next thing, and Google is just as new at this game as his company – if not more so in certain vertical fields.
Dan further quotes him: “Finding a job takes a few weeks or months, doing research and using the power of referrals. You can’t do it on a basic search engine, so we are complementary to search.” As Godhwani said this, I was thinking to myself – “Well, as soon as there is an economic reason to do it, Google will do it, and then what?”
By then, I sense, Simply Hired (and all the other vertical search engines on the panel) hope to be so far along that the only logical move would be an acquisition, or direct competition in which the upstart actually has a chance of winning. It’s how it’s been for ages in this industry.
But back to this larger idea of search becoming an application. It’s probably obvious to you, but for some reason this idea provides me with a way of grokking a much larger trend – why is it that Google is so focused on Toolbar, Desktop Search, Accelerator, Local, and Ajax-y things like Maps, etc.? It’s because to create a decent search application, you need to have a far more robust interface, and you need to know far more about the intent of the person that is using your application. A web-based service, on the other hand, does one thing well, and does it the same for everyone. Search is becoming an application, indeed, and that more than anything else explains very well Google’s recent moves.