The first few steps in the marathon battle for the search user will transform into the battle of online social networks toward 2010
"We're three steps into a marathon," said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo's vice president of product strategy, in an interview at the CommuinicAsia exhibition in Singapore.
Google was the top U.S. search engine in May, based on the latest figures from Nielsen/NetRatings. It handled 49 percent of Internet searches, and saw the number of searches conducted on its site increase by 32 percent from the same period last year.
Determining which company dominates Internet search in the future will depend on pushing the limits of search technology. The search engine that returns the best results will help determine who comes out on top.
Current search technology is largely based on a method of ranking Web pages that Google pioneered. This method examines links between different sites to determine which are the most relevant to a search query. "We'll never know enough about the page looking at in isolation to do relevance and ranking. You've got to step back and look at the link structure, who's linking to who," Horowitz said.
While this approach will remain important, it will only take search technology so far. "We've been stuck in that phase as an industry for seven or eight years," Hororwitz said.
"Anything that requires human expertise, where you would value the opinion of your neighbor, your friend, your mentor, people you trust in different contexts -- that's the real opportunity," Horowitz said.
Because many of these queries are centered around purchases, they will be a lucrative source of advertising revenue. "They are the most valuable kind of queries," he said.
The battle of search has been raging for years. Google was actually a "late" entrant to the market. Altavista was the leading search engine at the time Google entered the market. Existing users switched to users rapidly because of its "page ranking" technology that delivered more meaningful search results. Given internet users can "switch" without cost, there may not be a competitive advantage in being "first to market" or having a dominant position at a particular point in time. The source of sustainable competitive advantage, or :competitiveadvantage:, is very different in an online world.
The battle for search is likely to move very quicky to a battle of online social networks in key market verticals. These verticals will be based around information with intrinsic value in existing industries.