With its new personalised
home pages and its email service, the Internet firm is
clearly moving away from search, but it's anyone's guess
where it's going
In plotting its
future, is Google following its rivals too closely?
The last several
months have been marked by the addition of several
new features as the search-engine leader attempts to realise
its widening ambitions. The latest, introduced last Thursday,
is a feature that lets people set up personalised home
pages a direct answer to Yahoo's My Yahoo portal. But
in doing so, Google's online face to the world increasingly
resembles those of its Web portal rivals.
downplay rivals' influence on its direction, but industry
observers agree that the company's identity is morphing.
In the battle for the online ad dollar, the distinctions
between Google and its Web portal competitors are fading.
"No matter what
[Google] says, it is their foray into becoming a Web portal,"
said Gartner analyst Allen Weiner. "They're taking
dead aim at Yahoo."
the biggest of the Web portals, with nearly 115 million
unique visitors to the site in April, according to ComScore
Media Metrix. It's followed by Microsoft's MSN and America
Online. Google comes in fourth with 78 million unique
visitors last month, but leads in search queries and ad
to Google's move on Thursday with a reminder of its stature
in the portal space.
is the number one personalised Web page in the world,"
a Yahoo representative said in a statement. "We launched
My Yahoo nine years ago and last year redefined personalisation
again by providing access to millions of content sources
from across the Web."
Google has some
catching up to do in the "personalisation"
front, analysts said. The company's home page tool, which
is in beta release, lacks many of the richer features
of My Yahoo and other portals, analysts said. For instance,
it doesn't offer as many news feeds or the same level
of detail on the stock market as rivals do.
dismiss the comparisons. In fact, Google vice-president
Marissa Mayer, who worked closely with the team that developed
the home page, said she hasn't visited My Yahoo in years.
She also denies that Google is building a portal.
"We don't want
this to be a walled garden just a good way to start your
entry to the Web," she said.
Creating a paradise
for advertisers is certainly part of the equation too,
Google isn't advertising
on its home pages yet, but those pages are likely to become
prime online advertising space. The beauty, of course,
is that advertisers may be able to target their pitches
based on the type of content and preferences people select.
"If they are
successful, they will eat into Yahoo's business to some
degree," Jupiter Research analyst David Schatsky
that Google might populate home pages with banner
ads, as rivals have done. Mayer didn't rule it out, but
said the quality of ads in terms of targeting the right
audience is more important than ad type. Figuring out
how to do that can take months, she said.
"There's a lot
of research to be done here," she said. "But
I would be inclined toward text ads."
The issue goes
to the heart of Google's identity. Google's enormous
popularity has a lot to do with the uncluttered simplicity
of its home page an oasis to many in a world of ever-busier,
flashier Web designs. Google's plainness also speaks to
the company's early reputation for putting the concerns
of users ahead of, or at least on equal footing with,
those of advertisers.
That's why some industry
observers applaud the company's decision to leave its
"classic" home page untouched while introducing
the personalisation option.
"If you want
more from the service, you can get it but it's not being
shoved in your face, at least for now," Danny Sullivan,
editor of Search Engine Watch, wrote in his blog.
But as Google pursues
a road closer to Yahoo and MSN, will its do-no-evil mantra
In the end, it may
not matter. After all, the privacy dustup over the way
Google places target advertising on Gmail by scanning
the text of private messages has not set the company back
"The best thing
that comes out of all of this is that it's going to accelerate
innovation, not only from Yahoo," Gartner's Weiner
said. "It's going to be a real nudge to Microsoft
too, and you can't leave AOL out of the pack. The consumer
is going to benefit."
What Google does
next is anyone's guess, but analysts have their theories.
Weiner thinks Google will introduce an instant-messaging
product within six months, either by acquisition or by
building one in-house. It's a major feature that Yahoo,
MSN and AOL all offer. "Until they have an IM strategy,
they're not fully engaged," Weiner said.
expect Google to open Gmail up for public consumption
soon. Google has kept the free email service in beta-mode,
limiting the number of accounts to those who are invited
to join. Offering a home page without email is "kind
of odd", Search Engine Watch's Sullivan said.
Further out on the
horizon, analysts see the Google home page as a platform
for introducing more kinds of media, such as audio and
video content. TV listings are another possibility, Sullivan
"The thing to
watch is, Google is good at doing stuff that's different
features no one was expecting," he added. "They
won't completely match everything Yahoo offers. They always
have to do something no one else is doing."
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