In its first major search-related move since its blockbuster IPO, Google has launched a book-search tool designed to help publishers sell books online, a move some see as a challenge to dominant bookseller Amazon.com, which itself has made inroads into the Web-search industry with its A9.com subsidiary.
Meanwhile, both companies — and the myriad others crowding into the search space — got at least two new competitors within the past week. First, Vivisimo launched a consumer-focused version of its successful enterprise search product, which clusters results in a move to make them easier to sort through. That is known as clusty.com.
Then, yesterday the founder of dot-com-era startup incubator IdeaLab launched his new search effort, Snap.com.
In a Weblog on the site, Snap.com founder Bill Gross said the search engine is designed to save users time. “We think we can cut the time it takes to find what you’re really looking for in half,” he wrote.
He said the site uses three “bold innovations,” such as the ability for users to refine search results through filters, a user-feedback loop that helps the site return results that others have found most useful and a heightened level of transparency, with updated graphics on site visits, searches conducted and revenue generated.
“Our conviction is that you get better results because transparency prevents advertisers or others from gaming the system,” Gross said.
Two’s a Crowd?
The Google move may contain the most intrigue, both because of the company’s place at the top of the search hierarchy, a place solidified by its IPO in August, and because it appears to be targeting the core business of Amazon.com at the same time that Amazon makes a foray into search.
Speculation has been fierce about how Google might proceed with its new war chest of cash, with some recent moves causing some observers to predict the company was at work on a browser and others saying that, as it did with Gmail, Google is more likely to surprise than to follow a predictable path.
Amazon, which has had book-searching technology as an added customer-service feature on its site for some time, recently launched A9.com, a subsidiary that offers what it calls Google-enhanced search results but in a much more feature-rich environment. For instance, A9 allows a user to store results and recall them later and make other personalized adjustments.
For now, Google Print, as the new book search is known, essentially moves any full books found in search results into a separate results list, where book excerpts will carry links to various online book sellers. Future features are expected to include the ability to search only online books.
The latest move could strain relations between Google and Amazon, which are likely tense as the companies move onto each others’ turf. Amazon’s A9 search engine, which formally launched just last month, uses Google search results, but presents them in a much more feature-rich environment.
Danny Sullivan, the editor of Search Engine Watch, said Google’s new feature does not seem to be intended to be a way into the bookselling biz. The links to online booksellers do not generate income, while a revenue-sharing for AdSense listings generated by the search results does.
“The content effectively gives Google many more billboards where it can place sponsored links,” Sullivan said.
The recent frenzy of new search activity comes after a massive wave of consolidation hit the industry, one that culminated in big names such as AltaVista and Overture, now both owned by Yahoo, being gobbled up.
The new wave of firms may prompt another such wave, as the larger companies — Google, Yahoo and Microsoft — seek to grab innovations in search technology and features to fend off competition, Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said.
“Each company is working its own niche, building its own brand and on its own strengths,” Li told the E-Commerce Times. “But they’re all after the same ad revenue and consumer eyeballs, so anything that advances that will be attractive to all of them.”
The newer search engines might have a harder time grabbing consumer eyeballs in large enough numbers to be a threat to the big three, but they could create a stir and help push the industry’s development ahead at a faster pace. Innovations such as the filters that Snap.com uses to sort through results, and personalization of results are likely being tried or tested by all the companies, she noted.