Advances in online search have been picking up momentum in recent months, culminating in a burst of announcements this week that could change the face of search all together, according to industry watchers. They see the increasingly heated battle between Microsoft and Google as bringing an avalanche of innovations that should continue well into 2010 or 2011.
"We've got a major battle going on for search right now," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "Google has the keys to the castle and everyone else is storming the gates. Whenever you have heavy competition, you'll see rapid changes."
This week, a lot of the changes that have been coming down the road for months finally arrived.
As promised in October, Google started giving users real-time search results this week. That means users who query a topic can get results only a few seconds old, and it also means that Twitter posts will be pulled up in users' result lists.
Google this week also unveiled Google Goggles, a photo-based search. That announcement came the week after Google announced that it was personalizing search results.
Not to be left out, Microsoft Bing last week released the beta of the latest version of Bing Maps. The feature-rich update has some industry watchers saying that Bing may have bested Google Maps at its own game.
So, was this just a string of announcements timed for the pre-holiday news slowdown?
Most analysts say no -- a wave of change in online search world is breaking. According to Allen Weiner, an analyst with Gartner Inc., search has never really been static. That's been even less true since Microsoft and Google announced that they had both struck individual real-time search deals.
As a result, said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, search is growing from something that served up the same search results to everyone to a service that's more individualized and more about images, video, tweets and posts. Search is starting to look much more like the dynamic online lives of its users.
"We're seeing a change in the nature of search," said Olds. "It's getting much more personal and granular. With these new capabilities, you can now pull up much more specific results that resolve down to a single - non-famous -- person or opinion."
Look for a similar flurry of search-related announcements in the coming months.
Analysts pointed out that with Microsoft and Google vying to grab as much market share as possible, innovation is likely to come fast and furious.
"Google and Microsoft sparring is fueling this," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC. "Microsoft's willingness to invest in search and not just let Google walk away with it is driving a new level of competition. I think we'll be seeing continuing changes for the next six to nine months."
Enderle thinks this battle, which has been in full force since Microsoft released Bing in June, will lead to great innovative changes well into 2011.
"The competition between Microsoft and Google is driving a war of innovation and a constant 'upping the bar' in terms of features and function," added Olds. "I don't expect to see this change anytime soon, as Microsoft continues to attack and Google counterattacks. And the face of search is changing as a result."