'War of Innovation' Will Change Face of Search

Analysts say the Google-Microsoft war has already yielded a slew of search upgrades.

This month's flurry of upgrades to Google Inc.'s eponymous search engine, coupled with Microsoft Corp.'s renewed charge into the search business, could soon lead to radical changes in one of the Internet's most popular applications.

Analysts say the increasingly heated battle between Microsoft's new Bing search tool and Google is already bringing users an avalanche of innovations that should continue for a year or two.

"Google and Microsoft sparring is fueling this," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst at IDC. "Microsoft's willingness to invest in search and not just let Google walk away with it is driving a new level of competition."

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said Google is moving quickly to defend its turf. "We've got a major battle going on for search right now," he said. "Google has the keys to the castle, and everyone else is storming the gates. Whenever you have heavy competition, you'll see rapid changes."

Early this month, Google released several new search tools, including a much anticipated real-time feature that offers users the option of seeing relevant links that have just been added to the search engine's index. The company had promised the feature in October, after Twitter Inc. agreed to let Google pull posts on the social networking site into search results in real time.

Microsoft signed a similar agreement with Twitter, and another with Facebook Inc., to add a real-time feature to Bing. The Bing update hasn't yet launched.

Google also unveiled three other offerings this month: Google Goggles, a photo-based search tool that's designed to let users send photos of, for example, a business card, book cover or bar code from an Android-based smartphone to Google for quick identification and data manipulation; a feature-rich dictionary that defines words using a variety of sources; and a translator designed to help users find Web pages written in more than 40 languages.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft this month released the beta version of its updated Bing Maps tool set that some industry watchers said may outshine the popular Google Maps.

"The competition between Microsoft and Google is driving a war of innovation and a constant upping the bar in terms of features and function," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "I don't expect to see this change anytime soon."

The rapidly emerging new tools are starting to change the search paradigm from one where the same results are served to all users to one where search tools serve up more personalized results that include various types of content, including images, video, tweets and blog posts, said Olds.

Less than six months after the launch of Bing, Google continues to dominate the search business, according to Experian Hitwise, an online market tracker. The company said that 71.57% of all searches in November were conducted on Google, up about one percentage point from October.

Meanwhile, No. 3 Bing's market share slipped from 9.57% in October to 9.34% last month. Yahoo Inc.'s search engine maintained its runner-up position, but its share slipped almost one percentage point.

Yahoo and Microsoft this month finalized a deal that calls for Bing to be the primary search engine on Yahoo sites, but that agreement still requires regulatory approval.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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