When IAC bought Ask Jeeves for $1.85 billion last month, experts were not saying that IAC overpaid—quite the contrary. That gives you some idea of the way industry watchers view the potential and importance of search technology.
The momentum for search has been building for some time. Google, having reached $1 billion in annual sales, launched an IPO that blossomed impressively last summer and has been seeking to entice developers to create applications that call on Google search.
Not to be left behind, Yahoo has been seeking to contest Googles ascendancy with developers by launching a comprehensive developers program for its search technology. Microsoft, once again not the first mover, has been warming up on the sidelines as it looks for opportunities.
The proliferation of data across the Internet as well as the desktop has made the ability to access it essential. Search, in short, has become the killer app.
As far as IT professionals are concerned, there is much good going on in the search industry and only a few clouds on the horizon. Without question, the competition between Google and Yahoo is creating more opportunities for enterprise IT to incorporate search technologies into enterprise apps.
The support of Web services by the search engines promises to open up yet another horizon as well—the ability to invoke search seamlessly and often without the user being aware of it.
And anyone who has tried Googles desktop search function has discovered a utility without which it is almost impossible to imagine functioning.
What are the causes for worry? The lure of commercialization could skew honest search. Without impartiality, search is little more than advertising.
Impartiality also could be attacked by those who would game the search engines to produce results favorable to them. Spammers also could create more links to gain higher rank. Theres also the threat of predatory ad clicks by software bots to drain competitors budgets.
As for IACs acquisition of Ask Jeeves, it could propel that search provider, now with only 5 percent market share, to new heights.
But IAC also could take Ask Jeeves out of the running as an impartial search engine, making it deliver results that pertain only to IACs consumer content holdings. Similarly, vendors with agendas could acquire other search providers.
Finally, as more data is accessed, protecting confidential data will become more important but also more difficult.
So far, market forces have been sufficient to foster the basic integrity of search results, as well as the healthy competition among major search players.
However, as more and more money is fed into search technologies and companies, the threat of corruption grows. In the future, it may be necessary to apply antitrust laws as well as greater intervention by law enforcement agencies.
For now, though, search is the "feel good" story of the new millennium.
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