Is Search Destined to be a Commodity?


Nick Carr thinks so. Carr's basic argument is that the switching costs of searching are too low; put another way, search just isn't sticky enough. He writes:

I've continued to use Google for most of my searches simply because Apple stuck a search box in the corner of my Safari browser window. But it's also a tenuous advantage. If in the next Safari update that box gets switched to Yahoo search, I doubt I would go to the trouble of hacking it back to Google. I'd start using Yahoo. Unless you control the desktop or the browser, in other words, you're stickiness is in somebody else's hands.

As for tagging, Carr argues that that's not compelling enough either:

Of course, it remains to be seen how attractive personalized search services will be to Joe and Jane Searcher (who may not give a toss about tagging or communal browsing, either). And you can bet that other search providers will quickly mimic any such service - so while it will increase switching costs, it won't necessarily enhance competitive differentiation.

Personally I think the key is making search sticky is to make it about personal information, but is Carr on to something here? If so, what does this imply, if anything, about the future of search?


At a guess?

Portalization. :)

Why do you think they go to the trouble?

Have a look at Yahoo; they've got all kinds of services. Email. Stock tips. And they *feel* trustworthy.

The problem is the geeks

They think up fancy applications that they would like - tagging is one of them - but it hardly appeals to the average user. My family is pretty PC literate and are online a lot. I bet not one of them - from my 20 year old nephew to my 70 year old father-in-law - has heard of tagging.

I think Carr has made a pretty astute observation. I always believed that Windows Vista would make a big difference in the market shares of SEs. Users will get used to the convenience of not having to open a webpage to run a search. And MS's control of the desktop will shake search up like nothing before it. (I'm not sure that's a good thing)

"you're stickiness is in

"you're stickiness is in somebody else's hands". Heh.

I disagree. He's got a point, but most of the people I see who use the web, inexperienced and experienced alike, still go to the front page of their favourite engine to search and ignore the search box(es) of their browser. Strange but true. People get stuck in their ways and even when you give them an easier and quicker alternative to whatever they're used to, they often won't change.

That may well change, of course. But Google seem to have seen it coming - both Opera and Firefox use Google by default for their built-in search, in return for a fat wedge of cash.

Its still about relevancy

I have to disagree with Nick. I reckon this could be a point if

a) people found what they were looking for fast and
b) there wasnt much difference between the major search engines.

But, with searchers taking an average of 11 minutes culling through results, theres still alot of play in the relevancy stakes and I reckon that Google out performs the others time again regardless of whether you are a sophisticated searcher or not. Maybe in time but not yet if I analyse my clients log files ;)

Define Commodity

A commodity is something like a toaster, you can buy one and always get good toast.

Unfortunately, if toasters were search engines you would need 4-5 toasters just to get the exact toast you wanted.

Carr is a pontificating windbag that thinks that searching on Google, MSN or Yahoo results in little differentiation in the results which is a total steaming load based on my daily interaction with all three of them.

All I know is my little old gray haired mom 'Googles it' instead of using a built in search or Yahoo or MSN because Google it's the only place she gets what she wants, so the search is a BRAND and not a commodity.

Perhaps if he knew what in the hell he was talking about I'd justify his diatribe with more useful commentary.

I use the search box in

I use the search box in firefox often. I agree with the author and I think Google realizes this too, that's why the alliance between Google and Firefox is so crucial to them.

Also, I don't think portalization is enough for retention, look at the search engines turned portals which no uses anymore.

On Commoditizing: The barrier to entry is lower than it has ever been -- I could build an engine which costs less than $50 per million URLs, and the price will keep going down.

On Commoditizing: The

On Commoditizing: The barrier to entry is lower than it has ever been -- I could build an engine which costs less than $50 per million URLs, and the price will keep going down.

but how many of those URLs would be spam? in that sense i think search engine spammers have helped raised the competitiveness and barriers to entry in the search market as while indexing/crawling maybe getting easier delivering targeted results IMO is not.

I guess my answer to you is

I guess my answer to you is to ask what percentage of top 30 results in Google, MSN or Yahoo are spam? Yet, I am willing to bet that I could build a filter that would be on par with the big players for another $10 per million or less.


I agree with IncrediBILL search (google) has become a brand.

Yahoo's MyWeb may be the trojan horse :P

I'm fascinated by MyWeb, in particular because this is the *only* comprehensive effort by a major* search engine to provide a way for Mom and Pop to bookmark AND have available for full-text-search any Web page they like.

Forget "tagging" and tagsonomies and whatnot... this isn't about that (well, at least not about that for the non-geeks). It's about being able to hit one button on your toolbar and browser and know that next week, next month, next year, you can type a couple of words that were on that page and find the page again... even if it's no longer online!

So what does this have to do with stickiness or switching costs? Simply put... if one has their whole surfing record *AND* favorite cached pages in one search engine, they're not going to switch lightly. Sure, this may not be a competitive advantage, per se, if the other engines match it... but it still presents quite a heavy switching cost!

*Sorry, Looksmart, you don't count, even though Furl is pretty nifty.

Strange but true. People get

Strange but true. People get stuck in their ways and even when you give them an easier and quicker alternative to whatever they're used to, they often won't change.

I dispute that it's easier to use a search box. Your home button will always be a larger and easier target for a mouse click than the search box, and if your homepage is an SE (likely), then that's the easiest way to get to a search box (remember, SE search boxes autofocus). In FF, my home button is located to the left of the browser, which also makes it easier to click than the search box (right-handed users find it easier to move the mouse accurately to the left - try it).

As a keyboard junkie, I personally find the FF search keywords more important. Ctrl+L, type "google some keyword terms" and you're taken to Google. Personally I shortened mine to "gg". Even if I want a Yahoo search I find it easier to hit ctrl+l, start typing "yahoo" then hit down, enter. Easier than reaching for my mouse and aiming for a small white box in the top-right of my screen, anyway.

Of course there are many different setups to consider, but personally I think that using a search box is, at least most of the time, going to be one of the most difficult ways to search from your browser.

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