Will Kumo Find Google’s Search Soft Spots?

It’s difficult to imagine Google — the market maker and breaker of allthings online-search related — ever being dislodged from its perch as king ofthe hill. If there were a company that could do so, it would most likely beanother market maker — say, Microsoft.

To be sure, Microsoft has made a number of attempts to crack thesearch market, to limited success. However there has been buzz lately around its renovation of Live Search, codenamed “Kumo.”

Taking Aim at Google

Screen shots leaked earlier this year — perhaps intentionally — show acleaner layout, as well as a more-intuitive, or semantic, searchfunctionality that is probably a result of Microsoft’s acquisitionlast year of Powerset.

The final version may well be at hand: According to news reports,Steve Ballmer will unveil Kumo next week at The Wall Street Journal‘sD: All Things Digital conference.

Then there is Yahoo, which enjoyed a short time in the sun as topsearch provider several years ago and has been seeking to reclaimthat position ever since. Earlier this week, the company unveiled newfeatures that offer more options for search. The enhancements areaimed at providing a wider selection of content — including Wikipediaentries, videos, news feeds, etc. — as well as mobile usability.

It’s not that these two developments are bound to dethrone Google:They may well fizzle out as other search challenges have. Theydo, however, point to the ongoing determination from other Web 2.0 companiesnot to cede this market to Google without a fight.

Weak Points

Google search does have its weak points, Scott Testa, a professor ofmarketing at St. Joseph’s University, told the E-Commerce Times.

“From a business standpoint, they are vulnerable in regards to thegovernment’s antitrust efforts,” he said. From a technicalperspective, “they have failed in their social networking initiativeswith Orkut. There also could be a threat from an open sourceinitiative like Wikipedia.”

Plus, “they have heavycompetition in Asia from Baidu,” Testa noted.

The best way to approach Google search is probably not by taking on its mainstrengths: its ubiquity and its broad horizontal sweep.

Something Different

“You will see the most competitive traction against Google in verticalareas,” Mike Janes, CEO of FanSnap, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Obviously, a major area of relevance is localization. In our case, weare focused on ticket results,” Janes said, “showing airline and hotel results thatare goal-oriented and designed for specific purposes.”

FanSnap’s search results provide access to information not readily available onthe Internet, he added.

“The way to successfully compete with a large player like Google isby specializing in an area where you have specific domain expertiseand where presentation of results is substantially different than whatyou would expect from general search results,” he maintained.

Real-Time Search

Google is also vulnerable in areas that are not directly related to search but have some impact on it.

“As Twitter has shown, Google has somevulnerability when it comes to real-time search,” Marc Engelsman, VP of client services at Digital Brand Expressions, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Google is working on this and just upgraded their algorithm lastweek,” Engelsman pointed out, “and while Google News is pretty good for ‘news,’ it is stillnot so good at being a go-to resource for less newsy searching forwhat’s happening this very minute.”

Yahoo or Microsoft may try toexploit this vulnerability — and if they do, if it will be a game-changer, he predicted. “People seem comfortable using alternative resources as they need to — like switching to Wikipedia when lookingfor certain types of information.

Search Moat

Google has built a huge moat in the search space, so any challengerwill need to make mammoth strides in improving the search experience inorder to take any of its market share, Joshua D. Barsch, CEO ofStraightForward Media, told the E-Commerce Times.

“If Google has any vulnerability, it’s in the enormous volume ofresults it provides, which can overwhelm some users,” Barsch said. “Microsoft andYahoo have to make search easier than it already is, and the only wayI see that happening is integrating preview screens into their resultspages. Giving searchers a preview of what’s behind each link issomething that could vastly improve the user experience, and it’ssomething Google isn’t doing yet.”

There’s a Catch-22, though: Nearly all of searchengine revenue is derived from clicking on paid-advertising links.Would preview pages discourage users from clicking on those paid links?Very possibly, yes, Barsch said.

“Perhaps a middle-ground solution is to offer preview screens onpaid-advertiser links, and not on the natural results,” he suggested. “That way, you’dget the enhanced user experience of the preview screens, plus agreater likelihood that users click on the paid links, driving morerevenue.”

1 Comment

  • Great article.

    If we’ve learned one thing over the past few decades about technology breakthroughs, it is that genuine innovation occurs at the edge. In the context of search and search advertising, a look at the little guys is a great way to see where the big boys are headed.

    Check out NeXplore Search: (www.NeXplore.com), an innovative Web 2.0 search engine optimized for a superior end-user experience, rich-media display and social network integration.

    Barsch’s comments on improved preview pane use in search are dead on. I don’t believe any search engine’s use of a preview pane is as advanced or as helpful as neXplore’s.

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