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Close Encounters of the Search Kind

Kevin M. Ryan
Close Encounters of the Search Kind Kevin M. Ryan

Have you ever had one of those weeks when the world just didn't seem right? This editor covered a lot of ground last week from New York City to Los Angeles and San Jose and the sky seemed colored by the green camera lens filter from the "Matrix" film.

Perhaps the ongoing war in the Middle East or maybe yet another terrorist scare played a part in my Twilight Zone week, or maybe it was the rumor that Mars had once again moved too close to earth. Whatever the case, strange events were afoot and once I hit the road, there was no turning back.

As it happens, the search world also had an interesting week-- from Google's shift in interest to user-generated content and video to MSN's continued world domination of content. In any case, dear readers, prepare to be shocked and amazed as we head off to a place I like to call, the search zone.

Tweaking the links
Frequent travelers often remark about the strange things that happen to them or interesting people they meet while on the road. As I arrived in San Jose on Monday I was struck by the incredible likeness my hotel courtesy van driver had with the main character from the movie "Sling Blade." 

Later in the week, I tried to set the record straight by locating a video clip featuring Billy Bob Thornton and I noticed that Google had moved the link to Google Video to its home page, replacing a link to Froogle.

Apparently a lot of other people noticed as well. According to Hitwise, traffic to Google video surged 50 percent to 70 percent in a day. To those following the ongoing saga of search and video, the debate as to whether full motion content is important should be over. Or should it?

The strangest behavior
My visit to San Jose began with an interesting ride to the hotel but my stay was strange in and of itself. The little inn's key card maker had apparently died a horrible death over the weekend and a hotel employee had to escort guests to their rooms each and every time they wanted to enter.

Excellent-- not only was Karl Childers driving me around, but now he was walking me to my room five times a day.

Since we are on the subject of technical breakdowns and irrational fears, why not take a closer look at human behavior? The search world is filled with conspiracy and world domination theories but a little knowledge often separates the bullspit from the reality.

Video, image and other search areas are often the emphasis for what may or may not be the next evolution of search, but data from Hitwise sheds a little light on actual behavior.

Hitwise's Bill Tancer has been blogging about activity to Google's other areas for some time and the latest round of data tells a bizarre story. For the week ending 07/15/06 Google's search function saw nearly 80 percent of total traffic to Google sites.

After the remaining nine percent and six percent visit image and mail search respectively, the remaining 20 percent of traffic seems to disappear into a web-based black hole. Video search represents .47 percent of total activity while all other areas represent fractions of percentages.

So if all it takes to increase traffic to these areas is adding a link to the home page, Google could simply add every search area link to the entry page. We could call it… well… Yahoo! or MSN.

Pick a destination, any destination
A trip to the rental car place in Los Angeles was my next stop on the Twilight Zone tour. I won't tell you which rental car company I went to, but I will say it was a National firm. As strange as it would seem, there were only two cars left on the lot that normally houses a hundred or so vehicles.

I was left with a choice of a sub-compact or a very grandfatherly looking luxury sedan. Since the small car had mechanical problems I headed off in my aircraft carrier sized sedan and pondered the choices we the internet generation have as we navigate the web. 

Google remains at the top of directive search activity and new search technologies and content areas promise to foretell the future of search and the web. comScore recently released its latest round of worldwide usage data and MSN sites remain top of mind the world over with nearly 500 million unique visitors.

Yahoo and Google were second and third on the list with 480 million and 450 million unique visitors, respectively. The lesson learned here is that in the race to predict future destinations and world domination of the usage of the web, every area has to be taken into consideration.

Stranger in a strange airport
Needless to say, by mid week I had chosen to drive around in the ultra slow lane on the freeway and took no chances. I really thought nothing could surprise me by Wednesday, but I was wrong.

As thousands of my fellow travelers and I scurried about Los Angeles International Airport Thursday morning, I noticed that Google had struck a deal with Fox Interactive Media's popular MySpace.com site.

The multi-year arrangement secures Google's position as the exclusive search functionality and technology provider for Fox Interactive Media sites. Fox has to meet traffic goals so Google can meet its 900 million dollar commitment. Pretty simple.

While many have questioned the move as a strange approach to increasing market share, I believe they may have missed the big picture of content married to user preference and behavior. (MySpace ranks tenth in monthly unique visitors according to July, 2006 comScore data, by the way.)

The partnership may prove to be a wash and MySpace's popularity might fizzle but it could be yet another step toward recognizing that search and the world around is changing. Hey, stranger things have happened, haven't they?

Kevin Ryan is the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .


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