Wednesday, May 16, 2007

One Search to Rule Them All: Google Readies "Universal Search" to Unify Content Assets

On one level Google's announcement of the impending unveiling of a new search interface that unifies many of its key content assets is just a catchy filler for its analyst briefings: since when does improved navigation make for real headlines? But when you delve into the details Google's "Universal Search" is going to reset the bar of audience expectations for content search services yet again. In a nutshell, Google is working on new technology that will intuit when content from the dozens of Google properties - Scholar, News, Book Search, YouTube, you name it - is appropriate to a given query and assemble results in a combined search results display. Yes, it's federated search, but with relevance capabilities that promise to make results far more useful than ever before. In addition to information and media that will make its way into the main search results the navigation options that are displayed in a search results page will change according to the search terms. For example, searches for information about programming languages will display links to Google Code, Google Groups, Google Books and other sources that may have relevant
content. Hello, faceted navigation.

This level of integration of content from Web pages, news sources, video, books and other sources such as public records and Google Base content will be challenge enough for open Web content vendors. But think also of the impact as both Web search results and results integrated with enterprise content via the Google Search Appliance make their way into the corporate realm. For nearly a decade business information services such as LexisNexis, Factiva, Hoover's and OneSource have seen responding gingerly to user expectations set by Google searches: what happens when those expectations now include by default sources such as video, books, public records, data and other rich content that can solve business problems? Add Google's APIs into the mix along with some clever developers and publishers eager to reach business audiences in more profitable arrangements and business information services must ponder again what to do with Google's increasingly universal content aggregation capabilities.

To some degree all subscription business information services rely on inertia in their market segments to power their sales: if your customer had a content budget last year chances are they're going to have it next year as well. And certainly sector-specific and role-specific premium content services will continue to warrant strong ROI arguments for many vendors. But as more and more content types are made available via Google in a neatly integrated form via a largely free-to-users business model the aggregation model for business information will be challenged by a far wider array of content sources than most will be ready to integrate as cost-effectively as Google. Expect these changes to be subtle at first, then increasingly obvious, then completely evident about the time that it's too late for traditional licensors to react effectively. Kind of like what's happened with everything else Google has done.
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