April 10, 2001 1:40 PM PDT
Is Google ogling Yahoo's crown?
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Now, as the Web giant struggles with revenue and its executive team, could Google be sneaking up on Yahoo?
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has become the search destination of choice for the technology-savvy and many others. The site also has earned the plaudits of search mavens, partly for its single-minded focus on search technology and its abstinence from the kind of information, communication and commercial extras that characterize Yahoo and other portals.
"Like some type of search engine Switzerland, Google never allied with the portal model but instead concentrated on offering good search right from the beginning," Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, wrote earlier this month.
But Google's neutral, search-only reputation seems increasingly at odds with reality as the site quietly introduces features that Web surfers ordinarily rely on portals to provide. These include white pages phone and address look-ups, mapping, Web site translation services and newsgroup access. The site has long offered Web directory listings, another portal standby.
The company's growth underscores its strength as a business-to-business play at a time when advertising revenues are slackening for consumer-focused Internet companies such as Yahoo, which has twice lowered its financial projections for the first quarter of 2000. Yahoo could not immediately be reached for comment.
Google vehemently disputes that it has designs on its portal customers' turf. Thus far, its reputation as a search specialist with no wider ambitions has helped it maintain good relations with the portals, who provide its primary revenue. About 130 sites license Google's search engine, including Yahoo and Netcenter, a property of AOL Time Warner.
"The fact is that we have 130 customers that we power search for," said Omid Kordestani, Google's vice president of business development and sales. "They don't feel we're competing with them, and we're comfortable with that model. I use my favorite portals for sending e-mails, instant messaging, tracking stock portfolios--all these things Google isn't doing."
In a classic case of word-of-mouth marketing, however, Google's site has quietly become a draw for Web surfers, offering an uncluttered place to find information. The company processes 70 million search queries daily--half through its own Web site, the rest through portal partners that license its engine. Google says it has 10 million unique visitors per month. It also achieved undisputed prominence when it swiped the Yahoo search engine account from standard-bearer Inktomi.
But as Google keeps adding to its roster of available services, it will likely continue pulling traffic from established portals, analysts said.
"I don't think its goal is to become a destination site," said The Yankee Group analyst Rob Lancaster. "That's not a dead market, but it's not the best place to be right now...(Still) they are potentially stealing business from their customers, and they need to be careful which direction they are pointing toward."
Although Google says it's not preparing to offer standard portal services such as free e-mail, it is steadily adding features. The company in recent weeks launched a test, or "beta," of its service to translate Web pages that are written in five foreign languages: Spanish, German, French, Italian and Portuguese. Google intends to expand the number of languages; the site also plans to offer translations from English into foreign tongues.
Portal site AltaVista has been offering this service for some time--in the same five languages introduced in the Google beta. Portal contender Lycos also offers translation services.
Google recently introduced white pages directory capabilities into its search engine, and, with the acquisition of parts of Deja.com, newsgroup search functionality.
The white pages information is accessible by typing in a person's name followed by a city, state abbreviation, Zip code, or area code. Reverse look-ups are possible by typing in a phone number.
Google is still in the process of implementing its newsgroup-reading service. As it stands, its version of the former Deja.com doesn't let people post messages, and it does not provide access to a five-year archive that Google acquired with the Deja.com purchase.
When finished, Google says the service will let people fine tune their newsgroup search results, organizing them by the date they were posted, message ID or relevance to the search term. All the remaining newsgroup features should be turned on in coming weeks, according to the company.
For its mapping results, Google now links to maps from both Yahoo and MapBlast when visitors search on specific addresses.
Flush with cash
In another sign of its momentum, outgoing Novell Chief Executive Eric Schmidt last month made an undisclosed investment in the company and joined its board of directors as chairman, replacing co-founder Sergey Brin, who remains as president.
A privately held company backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Yahoo investor Sequoia Capital, Google does not break out its finances. But a company representative said its revenues are roughly split between licensing fees and advertising generated from its site. The company does not sell banner ads on it site, but it offers featured search placements for a fee through its AdWords service.
Lancaster said Google may see significant growth in its licensing revenues, which he said may be have been sold in the early stages at a discount to boost its market share. But advertising could also remain a lucrative business. About half of all Google searches take place on its own Web site, according to the company, giving it plenty of incentive to offer its own features that would attract visitors.
Spokesman David Krane said the company expects to turn a profit by the end of the year. He said Google has no immediate plans for an initial public offering.
Still, the company shows no signs of slowing its push to add features and functionality; it also is hiring software engineers to write Web-based applications.
Google's Kordestani describes these applications as "something more like the toolbar we introduced, focused on search and navigation. There are all kinds of ways we could enhance that over time."
As for adding communications applications such as e-mail and instant messaging, Kordestani flatly ruled it out.
"Our strength comes from search," he said. "Portals are successful at that business, and it's not one we can add much value to."
Translating the Web
With the translation beta, people who search on "France," for example, can select a link that says "Translate this page" after results for pages written in French. Google will serve up a translated version of the page.
Google also offers the option of translating search results' titles and summaries into specified languages.
In addition to translating Web pages returned in search results, Google has launched a program to translate its own interface into various languages. Under the Google preferences page, Google visitors can select from among 36 languages in which to read the Google buttons and tips.
With the new "Google in Your Language" program, currently in beta, Google visitors can volunteer to help translate the site into more obscure languages. Among the dozens of languages under development, a few stand out for their whimsy, including Klingon, Elmer Fudd and Bork Bork Bork (a language familiar to fans of the Muppets' Swedish Chef).
Also on the international front, Google is busy hiring international "ambassadors" who will head up sales efforts in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.
News.com's Evan Hansen contributed to this report.