There's an interesting article over at the International Herald Tribune that talks about the different approaches being taken by Google and Yahoo! in their pursuit of search-related eyeballs. While both sites offer web search, free email services, mapping service and other popular online offerings, the reality is that Google remains focused on search while Yahoo! remains focused on content.
"The battle is about one thing: getting that search box in front of as many people in as many places as possible," said Jim Lanzone, the chief executive of Ask.com, the IAC/InterActiveCorp search service. "Search is the fastest- growing source of reverence online."
Despite their varied focus, both companies continue to be strong performers. Yahoo! is consistently one of the top destination sites on the Internet and Google consistently takes the lead in terms of the number of searches conducted. Demographic profiling studies show that the user base for each site is also surprisingly similar. Ultimately, what remains the most promising bit of data for both sites is that American Online and Microsoft continue to lose market share with their own online portal sites.
To some degree, the difference in emphasis when developing products defines the sort of customer that each service most attracts: Google appeals to those who prefer technological wizardry, even if it is a bit rough around the edges, while Yahoo aims more for those who want a smoother experience.
There are risks to each approach. Google tends to introduce a lot of new products and then watch to see what works. This has the potential to alienate users if there are too many false starts. At the same time, Yahoo risks being seen as irrelevant if it tries to put so many features into each product that it is always months late to market with any good idea.
The article also has some interesting numbers that shed a little light on the reality of Google and Yahoo!'s success outside of the search circle.
For example, while I personally use GTalk as my primary source of instant messaging software, ComScore reports that only about 44,000 other people do the same. Compare that to MSN's 20 million users or to America Online's 62 million users and it really doesn't even compare. Another example of how far Google has to go to catch up to competitors is the Gmail system. While Hotmail managed to attract more than 12 million users in its first 18 months of existence, Google has snagged just 8.6 million users in two years. Compare that to the nearly 12 million email users that Yahoo! added in the last year alone and we're again seeing a much slower adoption rate for Google services.
On the other hand, Yahoo!'s quest to improve their algorithmic search technology has left them pouring tons of time and resources into search, often at the expense of it's more popular services. That sometimes leaves Yahoo! trailing behind when it comes to product updates or new releases.
We're still a long way from finding out who will ultimately win this battle, but the article does an interesting job of shedding some light on the subject.
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