Year in review: Search goes mainstream
Behind 2005's headlines about search champ Google, there was another tale--of an industry maturing.
The search business' age lines wouldn't exactly be visible to mainstream America. Moms and pops across the country were likely still getting comfortable going online and "Googling" things, while major news outlets only began following the industry closely for the first time this year.
But to Internet executives, Web search continued to prove its moneymaking power, solidify its leaders and reap financial rewards for its chief players.
"This year search caught fire beyond the industry," said Jim Lanzone, executive vice president of search products for Ask Jeeves, which was bought in 2005 by Barry Diller's InterActive Corp.
Signs of the maturation of Web search, which was worth an estimated $5 billion in 2005, included consolidation and further development of specialized search capabilities. All the industry's competitors produced tools for local, desktop and personalized search.
Search also became a dominant platform for mapping tools and for multimedia like TV clips and video. With the rising use of broadband, Blinkx, Brightcove and others started answering consumer demand for the ability to find movie clips and original programming online.
Mergers and acquisitions were also hot this year. Media conglomerate InterActive Corp, for example, paid dearly for Ask Jeeves, to the tune of $1.85 billion. eBay bought e-commerce search engine Shopping.com for $620 million. And Scripps acquired e-commerce site Shopzilla for $525 million.
Meanwhile, the top search engines snapped up emerging talent and expanded internationally to diversify their offerings. Yahoo bought tagging sites Flickr and Del.ic.ious.
Google acquired mobile upstart Android, invested in power-line broadband company Current Communications and hired Internet pioneer Vint Cerf.
Still, despite the market dominance of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask Jeeves, and their maturity (the last major search engine to be introduced was Google, in 1998), many upstarts continued to take a whack at the throne. In this regard, the year carried the same tone as 2004, with slews of start-ups trying to be a Google-killer for a specific segment of the market.
Resume specialist Trovix, event upstart Zvents and mobile search company Neven Vision are just a few of the companies to try to cater to a niche piece of the market. Academics and nonprofits were also busy inventing new tools to accommodate the digital library of the future.
After much ballyhoo, Microsoft launched its own search engine this year. But despite a $50 million advertising campaign, the company lost some ground in popularity to rivals Yahoo and Google.
The notion of search was also slightly broadened this year. Search indexes like Google's became the basis for what are called "mashups," or online collaborations of data like rental listings mixed with local maps. This was the year when the contribution of the individual, and hence, the community, also became valuable. Online encyclopedia Wikipedia demonstrated this with user-generated content that people were drawn to for easy answers. Meanwhile, Google, Yahoo, MSN and others rushed to feed more content and answers into their search results.
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Behind the headlines