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Aug. 15th, 2006

In my last entry I speculated that fixed fee advertising is unsuccessful because hardly anyone knows about it, not because it doesn't work. This concept can be generalized to lots of things on the web, not just advertising companies. This is contrary to the wisdom proffered in The Long Tail that there are no more "hits".

Over the weekend, I ran into a friend from chorus who is looking for a web development job. (Fortunately, she is currently employed, but doesn't want to move into a mainframe development group, because she's afraid she'll lose her web skills.) We got to talking about various things, and I mentioned the URL for our sister chorus from Albi's new web site. Rather than write it down, she just said she would google it later.

The topic drifted to search engines. Basically she said she uses Google for just about everything, even in circumstances where she could just go to the site directly. The reason: habit. It works and it's easy. The basic functionality of the user interface on the homepage rarely changes, so it's not confusing (unlike other engines).

This phenomenon has been noted lately on several blogs. If you do a search on a common noun or phrase, chances are there will be a Wikipedia entry for it somewhere high up on the first page of search results. But rather than start using Wikipedia directly for these types of queries, people continue to go to Google first.

Later in the discussion, I asked my friend if she would ever stop using Google. She said no, because even if Google's results aren't always useful, they're not so bad that she feels compelled to change. In fact, she said that she wouldn't change unless someone put out a superior engine. I commented that at least for the foreseeable future, this is unlikely, since all the major engines are pretty much crawling and indexing the same content. I also mentioned the results of some surveys that for a majority of web surfers (using common words and phrases), results from the four top search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask), are practically the same.

So given that most people who use search engines seem to feel similarly, it looks like Google will be the most popular search engine for some time to come. This has some implications for the other engines, especially MSN. There has been some speculation in search and tech biz blogs that faced with the prospect of being unable to grow their search market share, Microsoft will eventually buy either Yahoo or eBay. In fact there are rumors that Yahoo turned down an offer from Microsoft late last year. This would be a long and painful acquisition, probably with lots of layoffs.