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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 09:31 GMT
Searching for the net's big thing
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Google logo, AFP/Getty
Google still dominates in web searches say analysts
You may not know it, but every time you search on Google, the company makes 12 cents in revenue.

That may not sound like much but it all adds up when you realise that Americans alone did more than 2.7 billion searches via Google in January 2006, according to figures gathered by Nielsen/NetRatings.

The analyst firm estimates that 48% of the 5.7 billion searches carried out by Americans in January were done via Google.

It also said that 39% more searches were done in January 2006 than in the same month in 2005. But, said the firm, this was not because search engines were doing a bad job.

"Web users are conducting more searches not because they can't find what they're looking for," said Ken Cassar of Nielsen/NetRatings, "but because search as a utility has become deeply ingrained into people's everyday lives."

The unwritten implication here is that Google too has assumed huge importance in the lives of many web users. For some Google is all they know of the internet because via its various projects that they do their searching, shopping, e-mailing, blogging, picture storing and chatting.

But Google is not just important to lots of web users, it matters to rivals of the search giant too.

Starting point

"There's a standard way of using search engines that Google has introduced to the market," said Adrian Cox, head of Ask, formerly Ask Jeeves, in the UK.

But, he said, what has become clear is that search is now just the starting point for that relationship people have with the web.

Rupert Murdoch, AP
Old media moguls like Rupert Murdoch are snapping up new media firms
No longer do the different search sites compete on how many results they can provide to people not least because, as even Google admits, most people get what they want in the first five results returned to them.

Which is why all the search sites, Google, MSN, AOL and Yahoo are branching out and trying to tempt users to live their online lives via their particular portfolio of services.

Most of these companies make their most significant amounts of money from advertising and that only comes from having a large, well-defined community.

Advertisers are far more likely to pay to reach Canon digital camera using kitten lovers in the Bay area than they are to pay to air adverts to women who happen to be watching Desperate Housewives on TV.

This need for large well-defined audiences also explains why Google, Yahoo, MSN, Yahoo and others are snapping up web firms such as Flickr, Bloglines and Del.icio.us, which come complete with a ready made community.

It is why Rupert Murdoch's News Corp snapped up MySpace as it was a great way to get a foothold in this market.

It also explains why many start-ups are being bought moments after they launch because all the big players are afraid of missing out on the next big thing. For that reason, as well as many others, Google bought the online word processing site Writely.

Community support

The need to go beyond the basic search is also the reason why Ask Jeeves recently became just Ask.

In the early days of the web Ask Jeeves tried to set itself apart by letting people ask questions of its search engine rather than just use keywords.

"Now," said Mr Cox, "more than 90% of the queries on the site are keywords rather than questions."

In a bid to do more for those that use Ask, the company has introduced a set of new tools that, again, aim to set it apart from the competition.

Jeeves on speedboat, Ask
Ask has retired its iconic butler Jeeves
The average number of search engines per user is 2.5 said Mr Cox, and increasingly people are realising that not all search engines are created equal.

This same realisation has prompted the UK arm of venerable web firm Lycos to change what it does. The company is introducing a system called Lycos IQ that taps the expertise and interest of its dedicated users to create what it calls a "human search engine".

This encourages users to post questions which then get answered by the community. Questions could be generally factual and seek information about historical figures. They could be social and ask where is the best place to eat Thai food in Darlington on a wet Wednesday?

Answers to searches are tagged and can be bookmarked if users find them particularly useful.

There is also a sense that money spent now is an investment in a future when everything gets to people via the web. Already figures are emerging that young people prefer gaming and net surfing to vegging out in front of the TV. That pattern of use is likely to stay the same as they age.

What is clear that at the moment is that Google is still the business to beat. Its competitors are trying everything they can think of to chip away at its hold and all want to find the chink in its armour that lets them in and helps them make more than 10 cents for every click. But for that, the search continues.




SEE ALSO:
'Fewer young people' watching TV
28 Feb 06 |  Entertainment
Net firms criticised over China
15 Feb 06 |  Technology
Search site retires iconic Jeeves
10 Feb 06 |  Technology
Anti-spam screensaver scrapped
06 Dec 04 |  Technology
Net thinkers look to web's future
30 Nov 05 |  Technology
Tech guru O'Reilly on Web 2.0
09 Nov 05 |  Technology


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