SES – Experts Map the Search Landscape

This morning we attended a Q&A panel hosted by some big voices in search: Danny Sullivan moderated the likes of Google’s Matt Cutts, Yahoo!’s Jeremy Zawodny, and Microsoft’s Robert Scoble. They pontificated on search subjects ranging from the impact of vertical and local search to social search, and even to the departed Jeeves’ resemblance to a soft drink.

The difficulties of video search Zawodny pointed out that video search faced so many technical challenges because video files didn’t carry good enough meta data to be indexed as efficiently as text, and wasn’t sure if YouTube would be video’s answer to Flickr.com, which has helped advance image search. Cutts pronounced himself a video skeptic and said that if you’d asked him a year ago whether he’d have paid to download a video file, the answer would have been a resounding ‘no.’ That said, he came around recently in order to catch up on Lost episodes on iTunes. David Vise, who wrote “The Google Story,” said that video would be set to dominate once DRM copy protection software gave major studios and networks a reason to feel secure enough to unleash movies and tv shows online.

Going up? Sullivan was a big believer in vertical search, and that topic had panelists buzzing. Vise called vertical engines the cable television to the Big Three’s networks, predicting tremendous growth for both in the near future. Zia Daniell Wigder from JupiterResearch pointed to vertical engines’ entrenchment in areas such as retail, and Zawodny said he’d use verticals to research specific buys (such as car or real estate purchases) – although he’d use a big engine to find the best vertical. Citing blog search site Technorati as an example, Scoble said that small companies doing vertical search could “take on the big boys” by carving out their own niches.

Advertising off the grid Vise opined that Google was making “Madison Avenue very worried” by its exploration of so-called ‘old media’ advertising on radio and in print, saying that it would channel money from medium sized businesses with credit cards to traditional advertising media without involving the big ad firms. And Cutts, although calling those forays experimental, said that if they could figure out a way to measure return on investment offline the same way they can online, it would be a “big win.”

Getting socialized Wigder predicted a boon for social search – saying it would grow faster than wireless search – but other panelists demurred. Zawodny praised social sites like Digg and del.icio.us for spurring online community involvement, but didn’t think it was “ready
for the mainstream.” Cutts said he had diffculty using del.icio.us and Flickr early on, and equivocated on whether social search would take off, or if it would be like wireless in 2000: “not fully baked.”

The Big Deal? Local, local, local Several panelists agreed that local search is set to come into its own. Zawodny said that although he saw lots of “room for improvement” with local search and mapping software, he gushed about the life changing effects of in-car navigation systems and thought that geo-located search was about to become “that much nicer.” Scoble said that screens on late-model wireless devices were “good enough and fast enough” now that they could everything required to make easy use of mapping applications with embedded local search.

Whither Jeeves? Vise, who, during the talk, had gotten a lot of mileage during out of his resemblance to Bill Gates (he repeatedly joked about crushing Google), praised Ask’s Teoma search technology, but then took a slightly different tack to make a bold – if tongue in cheek – prediction: the butler will return. He called firing Jeeves, with his “human quality,” a mistake, and predicted that Diller’s engine would spend a ton of ad money on the Ask.com rebrand only to produce a huge bust – and a lot of publicity. And would that pave the way for Jeeves’ reemergence? “It’ll be like Coke coming back after New Coke,” he said.

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