When you fire up your browser, do you go straight to a search engine, like Google, or do you go to a portal, like Yahoo or MSN? Spencer Kelly finds the battle for the number one spot is playing into our hands.
With more than eight billion pages to choose from, the web has plenty of places to visit.
Branching out into music or video is key to many search engines now
Getting us to come back to any one site on a regular basis is certainly a tall order, but that is exactly what some of the web's big players want us to do.
Google, Yahoo and MSN are just some of the companies which would love us to make them our homepage.
After a year of trying to impress us with enormous e-mail accounts - Gmail is still constantly upping the amount of storage you get with an account - the big hitters are now hoping to dazzle us with increasingly glamorous products.
It is a very exciting time, says MSN's Stuart Anderson.
"Generally if you are someone using the internet, you've never seen more innovation than you've seen in the last year, and quite honestly the pace is not going to stop.
"We're going to see more and more innovation in the next 12 months."
Race for change
Yahoo has recently bought Konfabulator, a download which gives you small widgets on your desktop. These can be used to display just about any information you want, from the current time to the latest news.
It is also hoping to build on its online music radio service, Launchcast, which includes a personalised music selector that learns the types of music you like and streams you different tracks accordingly.
As broadband take-up increases, MSN is embracing the increasing video content on the web. You can now compose and watch playlists of certain video content, interspersed, of course, with adverts.
Video is also on Google's mind. One of the projects under development in their labs section allows you to search transcripts and plotlines for video stored on the web, and watch it.
Other search engines have imitated Google's uncluttered style
Google's Lorraine Twohill says: "We started with 10 TV networks. We've pulled in all their programmes plus the data, the tags that go around those programmes, so they're easily searchable. Most of them you can play."
Naturally, search in general will always be a big web application, and after Google's enormous success it seems that everyone now agrees that a clean and simple search interface is a good thing.
First came the MSN no-frills Search, and now we have Yahoo's new-look search, which has unashamedly been Googled.
Even Jeeves the butler has put the duster round and had a clean-out. With many search results, he will even show you a preview of the page to make sure it is the right one before you click on it.
But the key to winning our favour may not be just a nice empty search window with lots of empty space.
It may not be video playlists, or widgets. It might not be the individual features at all.
The important thing might be that we can take those features with us.
All the main search engines are now offering personalised services
We do not just access the web from one place anymore. We can go online at home, at work, in an internet café.
It would be nice if our favourite features followed us, wherever we were.
Lisa Jones, the editor of Net magazine, says: "Because much of our lives now revolves around web services and things that we can do there, we need to be able to move our information around and not start from scratch every time we want to do a search.
"So it's increasingly about building this customisable, personalised web interface that remembers us and that we can take anywhere."
Create a Yahoo user ID and you not only get free e-mail, but you also get a chance to create your own homepage, to which you can add your own elements: calendar, e-mail inbox, news stories, weather, change the colour scheme, etc.
Your homepage now really starts to become your homepage.
Since imitation is the new innovation, it is not just a Yahoo thing.
AskJeeves have MyAskJeeves, MSN has MyMSN, and in the last few weeks even Google have started testing its own personalised homepage service. MyGoogle, perhaps?
You can also personalise your search options. Yahoo's MyWeb allows you to save and organise any search results you like into online folders, to be recalled at a later date.
No free lunch
All these facilities are free to us, so the web big guys will have to make their money elsewhere, namely advertising.
By giving us a personal login and customisable homepage, it is hoped that we will start treating it like home, and keep coming back.
But if we want free homes, we may just have to put up with a few adverts.
Yahoo's Nick Hazell says: "Our revenue comes from a number of sources: media advertising, paid for searches, and our subscription services, where we have about 10 million subscribing customers to various of our premium services.
"We see all of those businesses as quite complementary, and a range of businesses which add up to the whole and fund the kinds of services that we're able to offer to customers."
In the next two weeks Click Online will look at the big areas in which the big players think there is money to be made: communications and sharing information.
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