Search engine trends in 2004
So, 2004 turned out to be a very exciting search engine year, after all. For a moment, one could believe that we were moving into an era with a virtual Google monopoly, and monopolies are seldom good for innovation.
Instead there has grown up new alternatives. Competition is as fierce as ever, and given that both users and stockmarkets reward innovation, there has been a large number of refinements, new services and new products.
Let us take a look:
And then they were three — again
In January we announced that Yahoo! was to drop Google as its search engine result provider.
Yahoo! had bough no less that three search engines (Inktomi, AlltheWeb and AltaVista), and by combining these technologies Yahoo’s programmers developed Yahoo! Search. Yahoo! Search replaced Google as the search engine of the Yahoo! portal.
AltaVista and AlltheWeb also ceased to exist as search engines in their own right. They are now powered by the new Yahoo! Search search engine.
Microsoft’s MSN.com, which used to be powered by Inktomi, also found itself using the new Yahoo! search technology. However, the success of Google had made Bill Gates realize that the future of the Internet lies in the hands of the search engines.
Given that Yahoo! already had bought the best search engines on the market, Microsoft decided to develop their own search engine. In December they presented a beta version of this search engine for general testing.
In spite of the fact that MSN Search is still in beta, early next year the search engine scene will be dominated by three giants — Google, Yahoo! and MSN, followed by two important runners up: Ask Jeeves/Teoma and Gigablast.
This is good for searchers, as none of the existing search engines are able to cover all the web. Moreover, the competition will lead to more innovation and more useful features.
The search engine marketing community is also happy. They can now provide services for three to five regular search engines instead of one essential search engine. That’s bound to result in more demand and more revenue.
The year of local search
In March Yahoo! added a new feature to its Yahoo! Maps site. Yahoo! Maps lets you search for maps over specific geographical areas and is especially useful for finding your way in urban areas.
A “Web Search” link allows users to search for additional information regarding a particular shop, office, cinema etc.
That service is still there, but in August Yahoo! had gone one step further by adding a regular local search search engine for the U.S. and Canada.
More or less at the same time Google also launched a local search service. .
Google Local search — which in currently in the beta testing stage — is integrated in the regular search result listings.
If Google finds what it believes to be relevant local information it will present these hits at the top of the result list, marked with a small compass icon. If you click on the compass, you are forwarded to a special local search result page
Late in the summer, Ask Jeeves also added local search, this one based on data delivered by City Search.
What all of these have in common is that they are very US-centric at the moment. However, they all demonstrate that the search engines take local search very seriously, and that they believe that searchers will be interested in local search information whether this is the phone number of the local pizza restaurant or the address of the nearest dentist.
This will also open up a new ad market for the search engines, making them compete with local phone directories and online yellow pages.
The year of desktop search
It started in March. Lycos announced its new HotBot deskbar. Not only did this software enable you to search the Web — like so many toolbars before it. You could also use it to search your own computer.
The HotBot toolbar will look for information in the folders of the Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express mail programs, and will go through the content of your Microsoft Office, PDF, RTF, and text files, as well as your browser history file.
In May Pandia reported on rumors regarding a forthcoming Google “Puffin” tool that would search your own computer as well as the Web. In August we could report that Yahoo! was going to do the same.
To learn more about these products, see our desktop search tool survey.
And indeed, in September Copernic started to give away its new desktop search tool for free. The next month Google launched its desktop search software, while Microsoft presented its Toolbar Suite in December, followed by Ask Jeeves and their desktop search product.
The advent of media search
As more and more people get broadband, there is also a growing interest for multi media files, including music and video. The search engines want a piece of the pie.
In November we could report that Google is preparing a search engine for your TV set.
Both regular broadcasts, DVDs and Internet TV transmissions contain closed-caption text, i.e. descriptions of the TV programs, subtitles for the hearing impaired etc.
Google is to use this text to identify the content of the programs, much in the same way as they identify webpages today.
However, others beat them to it. In December blinkx launched a TV and radio search engine. Blinkx.tv captures and indexes video streams published by TV and radio company web sites, letting you search for news, movie trailers, popular multimedia spots etc.
Moreover, it actually makes an analysis of the audio track of any transmission in order to understand the words spoken. This information is added to the database.
The very same day Yahoo! presented its new video search engine, based on the old AltaVista video search engine.
Google started testing personalized search in March.
Google asked volunteers to create a personal profile that tells Google something about their interests. When selecting relevant categories (e.g. Arts/Cinema, Computers or Health) they were be given the opportunity to check various subcategories that interest them (e.g. Architecture, Art History).
When ordering search result listings Google will take these interests into consideration and rank pages related to a person’s particular “life world” a bit higher than others.
We suspect that we will see more of this in the year to come, including search engine software that builds a personal profile based on your search habits. Given all the major search engines have developed — or will launch — desktop search tools, it should not be too difficult to use these tools to analyze personal interests.
A related development can be found in the birth of tools that lets you search your favorite searches (and the resulting web pages), your bookmarks, personal notes etc.
In October Yahoo! launched a test version of its My Yahoo! Search feature. If you are registered as a Yahoo! user (included in the free mail account), you may save the results you find interesting, block search results you do not want to see again and share your findings with others.
In March Yahoo! bought the European shopping search engine Kelkoo. Yahoo! already had their own American shopping search engine, but they were clearly interested in the much better technology underpinning Kelkoo.
Yahoo! is now much better positioned vis a vis Google in the comparison shopping search market.
Google is still working on their Froogle shopping search engine. The Froogle database is partly based on data fetched by Google’s spiders, crawling the Internet, and partly by data feeds provided by online merchants.
Google does not accept payment for such listings, although companies may buy text ads that accompany the regular shopping search results. The company launched a UK version of Froogle in September. We guess it will be out of beta next year.
AOL is determined to compete with Google, Yahoo! and Shopping.com in the field of comparison shopping, i.e. with a search engine that compares product prices from different shopping sites.
The new site is called in-Store, while the search engine is named Pinpoint Shopping.
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