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Search Rivals Gun Their Engines
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2004; 9:33 AM
With Google's public stock offering just about ready to roll, rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo are doing whatever they can to keep the customers they have and pilfer the ones they don't. But Google also is upping the ante with new features of its own.
"Google has unleashed two new features that are aimed at smaller Web sites and could change the search habits of millions of people," The San Jose Mercury News wrote on Saturday. On tap? The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has a new search engine tool that yields search hits based on the content of a particular Web site. "For instance, the owner of a computer Web site can place a Google search box on the site that returns only computer-hardware-related results. A search for the word 'mouse' would get results related to the computer device, not the animal," the Merc reported. Reuters wrote that "an astrology site could customize its results so that when searchers enter the query 'stars' they are more likely to see results about celestial bodies than Hollywood celebrities." Google's "Site-Flavored Google Search" service "is still an experiment at Google Labs, the company's research and development unit. It allows specialty publishers to customize Google search to reflect their own content," CNET's News.com reported.
Google's other new feature "lets owners of smaller Web sites put a Google search box on their site in return for a cut of advertising proceeds. Each time users click on ads running beside the search results from the box, the site operator gets a few cents. Until now, both Google and Yahoo have only allowed much larger Web sites to use this feature," the Mercury News reported. eWeek mentioned that "Google already was offering a similar program to large Web sites and portals from companies such as America Online Inc., EarthLink Inc. and BellSouth Corp. But the latest program extends the offering to the mass market."
"Both features aim to do the same thing -- give incentives to Web-site publishers to funnel traffic to Google. And by doing so, Google can make more money -- and users get easier searches," the Merc reported. "This is Google going out and leveraging the smaller network of sites...by saying, 'Help us get more searches, and we'll share in the revenue,'" Danny Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Watch newsletter, told CNET's News.com. "The move comes as Google, Yahoo, MSN and others are in a vigorous race to capture the hearts--and clicks--of Web surfers worldwide. Because search is a popular activity for visitors, these companies are racing to be the most useful to surfers and inspire their loyalty. Search is also tied to the fast-growing sector of online advertising: search engine marketing--with an expected worth of US$2 billion to US$4 billion this year. To capitalize on the market, all of the major search providers are seeking to expand search-related advertising to various nooks and crannies across the Web," the news service reported.
"This is where the future of search is going to be fought," Forrester analyst Charlene Li told USA Today. It's about "who has the freshest information and presents it in a way that helps me find what I'm looking for."
As part of the search engine race, Yahoo is expanding its services in China, something Google has done too. The company has launched a Web site tailored for Internet Web searches in China. The move comes "less than a week after archrival Google Inc made its maiden investment in the country's biggest search engine firm. The new site called 'Yisou,', which translates into 'No. 1 search' in English, would differ from its Chinese-language portal in that it would focus solely on Web searches, a spokesman for Yahoo said," Reuters reported. "U.S.-based Google, which has no physical presence in China, dipped its toe into the market last week by buying a minority stake in Baidu.com Inc -- which calls itself China's top search engine and plans to list in New York. ... Google is most popular with wealthier, English-literate users in China, while Baidu does well among middle-class users." The Associated Press picked up on this factoid too. "Yahoo! China, a unit of Yahoo! Inc., already has a Chinese search company, 3721, which it acquired last year for $120 million. Its Chinese Web site also offers a search function, though it appears to yield fewer results. Google has offered Chinese-language searches since 2000 and is hugely popular among China's more than 80 million Internet users - the world's second biggest Internet market after the United States."
And then there's MSN. Yusuf Mehdi, the Microsoft vice president who heads MSN, talked to The Los Angeles Times about the company's search initiatives. "Nearly a decade after the Netscape browser threatened Microsoft Corp.'s dominant Windows operating system, Google Inc. did the same with its search engine, which processes hundreds of millions of queries a day and helped the company generate $105.6 million in profit last year. But Microsoft has responded, spending some of its $56-billion cash hoard to build its own search engine, which it plans to release by the end of the year and incorporate in the next version of Windows, expected in 2006," the paper reported in an interview with Mehdi.
Here's Mehdi's thought on what's missing from Internet search: "Eighty percent of what's available out there you can't get. There's data behind private databases like Lexis-Nexis or Factiva. If you're a subscriber to a newspaper and you want to get the premium content, you can't even get that in your search results." And his thoughts on Yahoo's controversial plan to let companies pay to have their Web sites included in search results more often?: "We're looking at that model and trying to see if that works. But we think there's actually an incentive for people to want to give you all their content. The problem with that is it's hard to do." Despite Microsoft's plans to incorporate search into its next Windows operating system, this is not a move to dominate all other search engines, Mehdi insisted: "Windows is an open platform, from our perspective. For a long time, we've allowed people to choose the search engine they want, and we're going to continue to do that. If people have a great search engine, they can use it on Windows. We won't do anything to prevent it."
Not all of the moves to gain pole position involve just search. E-mail storage has become a hot area to attract customers. "The Web mailbox wars escalated last week when Yahoo expanded its free e-mail accounts from 4 megabytes to 100 MB, and Microsoft confirmed that it, too, will raise storage limits soon on its free Hotmail accounts," Washington Post tech columnist Leslie Walker noted yesterday in her Web Watch column. "Both are reacting to Google's plan to offer 1 gigabyte of free storage with its new Gmail service, which is still in trial form with a limited number of users. 'What we are trying to do is take storage off the table as an issue,' said Brad Garlinghouse, a Yahoo vice president."
Google's Gmail service is getting fresh press today from The New York Times, which wrote about the service's ad matching technology that offers up ads based on a computer analysis of an e-mail's contents. Those ads are what lets the company offer users a whole gigabyte of storage space for free. The New York Times said today "the service turns out to have some interesting self-imposed constraints. Google has created what is the electronic equivalent of a television network's standards and practices department to determine which e-mail messages are suitable for ads and which are not. Google will not display ads on e-mail messages with words related to sex, guns, drugs and other topics it considers off limits. 'We want the ads to be family friendly,' said Susan Wojcicki, Google's director of product management. 'There are some topics for ads we have decided that are not appropriate to be shown on e-mail.' Google will not show any ads on Gmail for dating sites, one of the most lucrative categories for other Web-based e-mail services. And it will not even show ads related to squirt guns. It also tries not to display ads next to messages that contain disparaging language about the products of its advertisers. So if your mother complains that her digital camera is a dud, the recipient is not likely to see a camera ad on that message."
Yahoo is ditching its paid business instant messaging service, which includes online meeting software and other tools not available in Yahoo's free IM service. The company said it "would instead focus on boosting the number of individuals who use its free IM service," The Associated Press reported, noting the program cost about $30 per person. "Research firm IDC estimated that as many as 255 million people will use IM at work in 2005, up from 65 million in 2002. But the vast majority of workers use free systems available from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo! or rivals, including America Online Inc. and Microsoft Corp."
Cablevision Systems Corp. has upped the ante in the telecommunication industry's efforts to attract customers with bundled phone and Internet service. The company "will announce today that it will offer unlimited local and long-distance phone calls, plus digital cable television and high-speed Internet access for $90 a month. Many consumers already pay $90 a month just for their cable television and high-speed Internet access bills, meaning Cablevision is effectively giving away phone service," The Wall Street Journal reported. "That can only be a headache for the regional Bell companies, which are already seeing demand for their traditional phone lines decline, in part, because Internet telephone services such as Cablevision's that charge far less. Goldman Sachs estimates that cable companies could take 7% of residential phone lines from the Bell companies by 2006 and nearly 20% over 10 years. Cable companies including Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. are planning big rollouts of phone service."
Spam is proving to be a bogeyman for disabled computer users, many of whom use voice-activated software to read e-mail and other Web content. The problem is just one of a slew of obstacles for blind or visually impaired computer users, The San Jose Mercury News reported today. "It's been more than five years since the federal government brought the issue to a forefront when it mandated that government Web sites and those of its suppliers must be accessible by people with disabilities. But many report the online world is still rife with digital roadblocks. The answer, activists say, is to universally implement consistent Web standards that ensure accessibility and usability." the article said. "There's a house full of good intent," Kenneth Frasse, executive director of Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, told the paper. "But progress hasn't been made."
Doing business in China often means playing by more stringent rules -- and here's the latest one. "The Chinese government is calling on Internet service providers to sign a 'self-discipline pact' meant to stop the spread of information that could harm national security as defined by Beijing," The Associated Press reported. "The country already requires Internet firms to police their online content and weed out any criticism of the central government. It also tries to block sites it deems politically sensitive or otherwise unacceptable. The new pact was initiated by the China Internet Association, a government-run industry group, the official Xinhua News Agency said over the weekend." From Xinhua: "Surveys have shown unhealthy online information has contributed to rising crime rate of China's youngsters. Many people, especially parents, have made appeals to the government to curb the spread of unhealthy information online."
This might not make traditional bloggers happy, but it's a sign that Web logs are becoming powerful tools in corporate America too. Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback, who represents Oracle rival (and takeover target) PeopleSoft, is attending Oracle's trial where the company is defending itself against antitrust charges brought by the Justice Department, and is writing a blog about the case. Just how much of a PR stunt is this? Well, the blog is on PeopleSoft's Web site. "The case Reback is chronicling will decide whether Oracle can go forward with its proposed hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, which is based in Pleasanton. Reback watches the Department of Justice attorneys litigate the case and Oracle's defense, and then publishes his perspective online," The San Francisco Chronicle reported. (See my Filter column from last Thursday with more details on the trial). "What makes Reback's blog different is that he is an attorney representing a party with peripheral ties to the case. While not directly litigating the trial, his client has a lot riding on the outcome. Reback is also one of Silicon Valley's most well-regarded attorneys, having gained a national reputation in the 1990s during a variety of clashes with Microsoft Corp. His new role as a blogger is an unusual situation that some believe may become more common. 'I'm sure there will be more like the PeopleSoft (blog) in the future,' said Ernest Svenson, a corporate law attorney in New Orleans who writes the legal blog Ernie the Attorney."
San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor mentioned Reback's blog in his own blog last week. "This is a smart PR move for PeopleSoft. Reback is a well-known antitrust lawyer (he was one of the major instigators of the original government action against Microsoft's monopoly abuses). This is his client's perspective, of course, but it's a fascinating one," Gillmor said.
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