Making clear its intention to stay a player in the search wars, Yahoo! announced plans this morning to introduce a free, high-speed desktop search tool after the first of the year. Search war competitor Google released a similar tool this past fall and Microsoft showcased plans for a desktop search tool of its own this past summer. Not to be out done, AskJeeves plans on releasing its desktop search technology to the world next week. The news has sparked renewed interest in the concept of desktop search and marks a new direction for companies that have primarily focused on indexing the Web.

Yahoo! has teamed with X1 Technologies Inc. to create a specialized version of X1's already existing desktop search program. The Pasadena, California based company has been marketing a paid version of its search software to businesses for several years, but partnered up with Yahoo! to help the search giant produce a free, Yahoo! branded desktop search solution.

Yahoo!'s new desktop search will be available for beta testing some time in January and will allow users to search their own hard drives for MP3 files, e-mails, PDFs and a variety of other file formats. Google's desktop search does not include MP3 searching capabilities. Additionally, the Yahoo! tool will not operate within a browser window, meaning that searches won't be combined with online searches at the Yahoo! Web site. The idea is to keep desktop information separate from online indexes so that Yahoo! can do a more effective job of isolating the data that a user is looking for.

Google demonstrated the lucrative opportunities that come with expanding product offerings when it introduced Gmail, it's free e-mail system. By offering users virtually unlimited e-mail storage, Google gave itself yet another outlet to display AdWords, it's PPC advertising program. By expanding their reach into areas like desktop search, companies like Google and Yahoo! stand to introduce even more ad inventory space to their programs.

Jeff Weiner, Yahoo's vice president of search and marketplace, explained the new focus in an interview. "Now desktop search is really about people's hard drive...searching your essential information no matter where it is."

The problem these companies face is the increasing buzz about privacy concerns. Google faced quite a bit of criticism when it announced plans to electronically scan the contents of emails in order to show contextual ads to users. There's no reason to think that privacy advocates won't show even more concern over Google and Yahoo!'s plans to scan and index the entire content of an individual's hard drive.

As Yahoo!, AskJeeves and MSN join Google in the realm of desktop search technology, more attention is likely to be focused on the potential privacy concerns and security holes that may exist with each of these programs. Chances are that the company that does the best job of answering those concerns, and that does it the fastest, will end up leading the pack in the next frontier of search.
December 10, 2004

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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