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Seattle Times: competition increasing for Google

Four years ago, shortly after I'd written about a new search service called Google, a Microsoft manager called me for a briefing on MSN Search. "I don't know what the big deal is," he said at the time. "Google looks pretty much like a straightforward keyword search."
Microsoft, on the other hand, felt the key to searching was shopping. MSN would do standard searches, but its orientation was to help people to buy things. From a business standpoint, that made sense: MSN could gain revenue not only from advertising, but also by sorting clients' rankings in its searches.
Consider the irony, then, in a recent Reuters report saying that Microsoft was going to challenge Google's No. 1 search status. MSN Search is powerful, but no one talks about "MSN-ing" something to find out more about it.
MSN, as it turns out, is not the only newly announced pretender to Google's throne. Yahoo!, following its purchase of search engine Inktomi, recently said it would try to take back its early reputation as the Web's best search provider. And Overture's recent acquisition of the first really good Web search utility, AltaVista, gave indication that its hat is in the ring, too. This is a lot of strange bedfellows. Google has been Yahoo's search provider, and Inktomi has been a longtime Microsoft provider. The musical chairs reinforce the notion that the act of searching isn't the key value of a search engine anymore.
No one is going to outdo Google by offering faster or more intuitive returns. Instead, the pairing of search with content is where the real mother lode lies. Despite its brand recognition and prowess, Google has growing vulnerabilities that its rivals rightly perceive. The first has to do with real-time searching. When significant news happens, the Web is the obvious place to turn for constant updates. Google is great at listing and prioritizing hits but usually has a lag time of a day or two.
Google has tried to address this deficiency by running breaking-news links with searches. But they are not comprehensive and lack Google's intuitive prioritization. Yahoo, on the other hand, offers one of the Web's best news services, especially on sports. It would seem like a simple step to offer a search utility that would give you the current on-field action, say, of a Mariners game.
Google's recent acquisition of Pyra and Blogger, its tool for Web logs, suggested that it understands its users' thirst for real-time content. Web loggers tend to be great news-linkers and will update their journals several times a day during fast-breaking events. Aside from news, the Web is becoming an ever-richer source for music, video and even movies. It makes sense that when a user does a search on "Purple People Eater," a link (or, better yet, several links listing pricing, etc.) to download the song should be at the top of the heap.
It's doubtful that search providers will ever own much entertainment content, although in the case of music it might make an interesting experiment for Google to "sign" a few bands and see where the searches lead. My guess is that search providers will partner with content sites. Amazon.com and Google announced a pairing recently that could be particularly powerful, as would, say, an MSN-RealNetworks alliance (talk about strange bedfellows!). In any case, search's role in connecting buyer with vendor might be described as the "new advertising." Certainly connecting a Thunderclap Newman searcher with a download for "Something In The Air" makes a lot more sense than running big banner ads on "Greatest Oldies" in hopes some Web users will click.
As someone who has written about Google's ingenuity and brilliance on the one hand, and the dangers of a single controlling search utility for the Web on the other, I'm encouraged by the sudden competition. I was surprised, however, by some sources who more or less dismissed MSN's comments as me-tooism. In the marriage of search with content, money will talk. And who has the loudest cash balance of all?

Story by Paul Andrews
Source: Seattle Times
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