Monday, November 15, 2004
Search Engines Wars: Google Competition Heats Up
"As Microsoft enters the internet search engine market, users find themselves overwhelmed with options." This is how the BBC opens up a timely article focusing its spotlight on Microsoft official entry into the new search engine competition against the established major players. Here is the new panorama and my short take before BBC's own:
The unchallenged champion of the category now covering eight billion Web pages. Google has been much improving its core search tool features and functionalities, but it has added first a Search toolbar and then later a very effective Search Deskbar with integrated mini-browser.
MSN Search (new Beta)
Microsoft is finally entering the major search engines by activating its own search index (before it was using results coming from Looksmart - Inktomi) and by launching a cleaner inteface, less ads and visua clutter and a few interesting advanced features like the "Near Me" search and the disputable inclusion of results from its own Encarta Encyclopedia.
The Amazon bookstore has developed its own high-quality search engine with Google custom results, indexed book contents and lots of useful unique advanced features. For researchers and serious information seekers this is becoming a must-stop-by search destination.
The new Yahoo is a serious contender in this new search engines competition and its latest search implementation has lots of good things going, including a clean interface, good advanced features and RSS searches.
Recent remake for the search engine that initially got attention for answering questions in plain language and offering intelligent alternative options before spitting out its final list of results. Provides great classification of results and often complementary and useful results to the other majors.
My personal take:
It is good for the users that the competition against Google is heating up. Better to have a few alternatives than live with a monopoly.
Yahoo seems the most awake contender. Its new search engine, the quality of the results and its timely and aggressive embrace of RSS make Yahoo Search the second destination I head to when Google is not enough.
Google remains solidly the favourite search engine for the majority of users, though it may start to rapidly loose market share, the moment that one of these competitors really wakes up to introduce some really innovative and useful features.
There is an immense margin of improvement for all these search engines and I have outlined before where some the changes should appear.
The new MSN Search is overall a major disappointment. For me, the new search engine from Microsoft doesn't provide any compelling reason to move away from Google or its fine competitors.
As in other occasions before, Microsoft shows its best muscle by cloning and refining what others have explored and realized first. Nothing wrong with this. Fact is that the cloning and refining is not enough in this space to get people to move away from their trusted search resource. I expect the clone and refine approach not to work here, unless some truly innovative and much in-demand features are added to its tool.
A9, the Amazon search engine, is a very good example of the type of true innovation we are expecting in this space. I think A9 is a great tool, and that it is carving for itself a space that is NOT in direct competition with Google. Well done.
Yahoo is moving well and fast. I like some of the innovation spirit I have started perceiving and I must admit that they carry an increasing number of qualified searches to my Web sites. As of now, this is the only real competitor to Google, in terms of results quality, interface, features. By itself, the RSS search integration into Yahoo Search provides a key competitive advantage that only few have been able to appreciate.
While Ask Jeeves has an index that is at most half the size the one of its competitors, its abilities include a great number of specialized search options while providing the searcher with effective categorization facilities. Furthermore the ability to edit, categorize, and annotate both saved searches and the search history shows Ask Jeeves to be another very awake kid on the block. Allowing greater leverage of end user views and preferences of the search results is certainly a winning path Ask Jeeves has moved on first.
And here is (in summary) the essence of the final verdict according to the BBC:
"I was a slave to Google although only a basic user who rarely used the advanced tools.
It's clear how it's become the market leader with its reach unrivalled since it doubled its index this week. And it got the obscure fact easily.
But the basic search could be a little more refined - a triumph of mass over classification, perhaps?
The new competitor MSN has had teething problems and we should bear in mind this is a test mode.
But it failed to home in on some of the raleigh references picked up by its rivals and the search builder tool is time-consuming if you're in a rush.
The mechanisms designed to trump Google, such as the Near Me and direct questions, seem limited at this stage.
Yahoo! did try and help me with its "also try" section and it answered the Sydney question too. But it is cluttered on the engine's front page.
All three could take a leaf out of the butler's book. Ask Jeeves gave a great classification of raleigh into its different definitions. And it got the question and the obscure fact.
A9 looks like a good bet for the popular culture references, with its access to the vast Amazon retail cupboard."
What is your take?
Reference: Tom Geoghegan BBC
Finally an idea that may prevent google growing into a monopoly with all the drawbacks that are inherent in monolithic achievement.
A russian programmer has started to use distributed computing for search purposes.
There is a recent article in The Guardian:
If distributed processing can search for aliens, why not web pages?
Jansen, you are totally right.
I just took over from the BBC own selection, but indeed, I should have known better.
If LookSmart can really leverage that potential of collaborative filtering, then we are going to see some real changes in the search marketplace.
Looksmart missing out?
well, looksmart may not be smart as the other competitors in the game, but if they can integrate Furl.net well to their search results, they will be able to provide very interesting user-oriented search content.
Marc, thanks for chiming in on this.
I agree and am aware of both X1 and Blinks though I still have several reservations about both. They are definitely wonderful tools and they have saved my life more than once.
Both understand well and better than most of the major search engines the issue of contextual display of search results next or on top of your ongoing work.
This is for me an important aspect. And this is why I think that the Google Deskbar is such a great (though little known) search tool.
Robin: nice overview. Another twist on what's going on are local tools like x1 and Blinkx (who just released a very powerful version 2.0 in beta). x1 is demonstrating a web-based search using heir engine at their own forums and the new version 5.0 beta is the most complete local search tool yet. Their move to the web is inevitable. Blinkx is doing some very interesting things in associative, real-time search that are well worth looking at as a harbinger of things to come.