During the SDForum search SIG last night on Microsoft's Mountain View campus, I had a fireside chat with John Battelle of searchblog and author of The Search, covering the early days of Internet search and the rise of Google. I first met John when I came to Macweek in 1988. He was a reporter, just out of school, at the weekly pub covering everything Apple. He went on to cut his teeth at Wired magazine, founded The Industry Standard (riding it up and down the bubble), had his search epiphany and recently launched Federated Media Publishing. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch posted a note on the event, and a podcast of our chat should be available soon on the SDForum search SIG blog.
My chat with John was followed up by a panel on vertical search, with representatives from Healthline, Simply Hired, Trulia and Truveo. All four exhibit some aspects next-generation vertical search engines--unique search technology, mash ups, AJAXed or Flashed user experiences, personalization.
The panelists were asked how they think about Google, related to their future. Simply Hired CEO Gautam Godhwani had a good answer. "I certainly think any vertical search company is thinking of Google a fair bit," he said. "At the end of the day, it’s tempting to say we are a vertical search engine, but we think of ourselves as a vertical search application for finding a job in most efficient way possible. Finding a job takes a few weeks or months, doing research and using the power of referrals. You can’t do it on a basic search engine, so we are complementary to search. Google does search very well, but we have yet to see Google do applications well."
You could argue with the assertion that Google, or Yahoo or Microsoft, doesn't do Web applications well. Mail and maps comes to mind, but Godhwani is right that so far the big three haven't focused much on vertical search-oriented applications. Search engines, like car engines, power the system but the overall experience is informed by all the other components that make up an application. Nevertheless, I would guess that Godhwani wakes up in the middle of the night worried what Google, Yahoo or Microsoft will do when they get around to a job listing aggregation Web application.
When I asked these panelists whose search engines are basically are scraping other sites, cannibalizing the folks that provide the “content” for their sites, what was their exit strategy? Answer - dead silence. I was saying this earlier in the day, on this Web 2.0 highway, there are three exits: Microsoft, Yahoo and Google. And that simply sums up the single biggest problem with Web 2.0.