Google's next significant Internet foray could be gaming, according to downstream traffic data collected by a HitWise Intelligence analyst who monitors Web traffic trends.
Many Internet observers quickly pointed out that in bidding to buy ITA Software for $700 million, the company was looking to mark new territory on the Web, entering a vertical where it lacked a strong presence.
That would be flight information software, a subsegment of the expansive online travel sector populated by the likes of Orbitz, Hotwise, Expedia, Priceline, Kayak and even Microsoft's own Bing Travel, the product some folks believe Google seeks to challenge with ITA's technology.
Hitwise's Heather Hopkins said July 7 she saw Google getting into the travel space with its search engine back in 2006.
This her blog post from March 21 of that year proves her call.
That was before Google owned YouTube, launched Google Apps for businesses and racked up $23 billion per year in online advertising and amassed a $25 billion war chest of cash.
Now that Google has moved on ITA, Hopkins' latest data poll shows gaming is ripe for opportunity. This new table shows the top 20 downstream industries visited after Google in June 2010:
Note that after Travel, Games is the next vertical market on the list, though it currently only garners 3.42 percent of Google's clicks. Hopkins noted:
"It may have taken four years since our initial analysis for the acquisition but what does clickstream data tell us about Google's next potential foray? Games. After Travel, the next biggest downstream industry from Google.com is Games and Google does not yet have a presence in that industry. Stay tuned..."
People love gaming, and are increasingly tapping into online games. Just ask Facebook, which offers such titles as Zynga's Farmville and Mafia Wars, which millions of users play on the social network.
It makes complete sense that Google would want a cut of this action because it would keep users' eyeballs in Google's network of Web services, seeing more ads.
There are some signs Google is heading in this direction. Some saw Google's move to buy On2 for compression technologies as a sign that the search engine had gaming in mind.
In fact, games were the primary apps Google demoed in its Chrome Webstore debut at Google I/O in May. Moreover, new evidence suggests Chrome is getting orientation capabilities to provide an application information about which way a computing device is being held. This is useful for mobile games.
The gaming rabbit hole goes deeper. Note that after Games in the HitWise list is Television, which the company will cover with Google TV later this year.
When you consider that Google TV will let consumers access Web apps from the Chrome browser, you can easily imagine Google TV users playing games procured from the Chrome Webstore on their big-screen TVs.
So, yes, I don't think getting into games is a stretch at all for Google.