Monday, October 2, 2006

The "New" Vertical Search: It's All About Good Content Product Design

Read/Write Web covers some new plays in vertical search that made their debut at the recent DEMO conference, including Pluggd, a search engine for searching audio in podcasts, and Retrevo, a consumer electronics search portal. The article has a nice summary of the strengths and weaknesses of a number of search plays they define as "vertical," including Technorati for weblog searches, Zoominfo for people searching and Farecast for viewing airline ticket prices in a stock ticker-like format. The key thing about all of these search plays is that they are FOCUSED plays that are not using generic infrastructure to create cookie-cutter portals or industry-specific indexes. The grim ghost of VerticalNet hangs over vertical search heavily, reminding us that the execution of vertical publishing is almost always most successful when its highly attuned to the needs of an audience focusing on a specific topic. It takes not only vertical-specific search results but a range of structured and unstructured data and unique content assets to distinguish a vertical search play.

In this sense Read/Write Web's headline "Watch Out Google, Vertical Search Is Ramping Up!" is a very accurate reflection of the challenges that general-purpose search portals of all kinds face. Google seems to understand this as well as anyone as it begins to integrate structured content from Google Base into its main search results pages to provide a richer range of content to searchers in specific contexts. As vertical search portals become unique destination properties in their own right there is an inevitable dilution of the value of a general-purpose search engine to research specific topics, but not a one-to-one replacement of a general search tool's power. Still, when one looks at down-trending traffic for Google one can appreciate that vertical search portals and other tools such as social bookmarking services are beginning to create a new era in research tools that promises to put the pressure on major portals across the board.
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