The year in search 2005 [part 2]

[Read Part 1 here]

Although it has caused fewer waves this year than Google, Yahoo! has single mindedly pursued its own vision of the future of a search-based portal. While Google and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft have developed technology-based solutions by building on their strengths in search and user applications, Yahoo! has developed its vision of a community-based web where people discover and share information among themselves.

The roots of the Yahoo! strategy actually goes back many years when the company developed away from its search roots towards becoming a ‘portal’. In its battle with the likes of AOL, then the idea was to gain a visitor and never give them a reason to leave by providing tools such as search, shopping and email all under one roof.

Yahoo! today has not given up on that vision but has refined it so that people can bring their own content and knowledge to share with others. As examples, in March this year Yahoo! bought the FlickR picture sharing service and followed it in December by the acquisition of del.icio.us community bookmarking site. Although these sites only have around 300,000 registered users each they are fiercely loyal – fitting exactly with Yahoo!’s aim of an interconnected network of ‘sticky’ sites.

Elsewhere Yahoo! bolstered its connectivity products with major overhauls. Taking its cue for Gmail, Yahoo! Mail now features the ability to search email headers, bodies, and attachments as well as view multiple emails at the same time.

Similarly, the current beta of Yahoo! Messenger now sports extended VoIP capabilities. Finally, what seemed a distant dream a couple of years ago now seems much closer. In a clear ‘stop Google’ strategy, Microsoft and Yahoo! have agreed interoperability between their IM clients. With Google now having a five per cent stake in AOL, we can expect GoogleTalk and AOL IM to announce an interoperability deal next year. Whether these opposing camps will ever form a single interoperable standard remains to be seen.

This kind of co-operation is not usually associated with Microsoft. But then again Microsoft is in the uncharacteristic position of being a poor third in the search business. Having acknowledged that it missed a trick in allowing competitors to establish themselves in dominant positions in search, Microsoft is now focussing on the Internet in a way we have not seen since Bill Gates declared war on Netscape a decade ago.

As the founders of Netscape discovered, Microsoft is never so dangerous as when it feels itself under direct attack. The legal spat over the defection of former Microsoft VP, Kai-Fu Lee to Google is the most public display of a rivalry that makes Jose Maurinho and Arsene Wenger seem like the best of buddies.

Nevertheless, rivalry with Google and Yahoo! has forced Microsoft to innovate. While Microsoft’s ‘Live’ services are mostly a repackaging of tools and features that the company already had, it shows that it is taking the threat of Internet-based productivity applications to its desktop business seriously. Whether or not the new Windows Vista operating system fits in with Microsoft’s self-styled ‘brand new Internet experience’, the pace of innovation does not look like it will slacken in 2006.

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