Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Search is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Aaron Goldman just wrote in SearchMediaInsider to say, "Here are the 10 Steps I would take to win the Search War between Google and Microsoft 'If I Were Running Microsoft'"

As one might expect, Aaron focused the first 3 steps on acquisitions of the search businesses of Yahoo, AOL and Ask. By Aaron's calculation these steps would allow Microsoft to buy an incremental 28% of the search query pie and add it to its current 10% share which would result in 62% share for Google and 38% share for Microsoft.

If Aaron had stopped there, the problem with his solution would be that it presumes "Search is a Zero-Sum Game" where the only way to gain traction is to buy the share of other players or steal some of the share from the dominant player. Many experts who analyze the search industry start with the assumption that there are a relatively fixed number of search queries per day per user (around two in the US) and conclude that there is no easy way to grow this number.

Fortunately, Aaron didn't stop there.

His 4th step suggested that Microsoft acquire Vibrant and KallOut because they represent, in his words:

"... alternative search starting points. Vibrant and KallOut have both created new search inventory by activating keywords in content -- Vibrant through hyperlinked text and corresponding ads and KallOut by allowing you to highlight any string of words and get instant search results. Getting to people before they get to Google is the best way to continue to close the gap once the Tier 1 engines are consolidated."

I believe this observation makes Aaron one of the first of the search intelligentsia to recognize that search is not a zero-sum game and we feel honored that KallOut made his list of companies that Microsoft should acquire in order to be competitive with Google in search.

Even though we don’t really want to be acquired, Aaron is right to spot the emergence of the “selection-based search” category as one of the future battlegrounds in the Search War between Microsoft and Google.

While “browser-based search” will always be important, our early data shows that “selection-based search” can generate an incremental number of total searches per user per day that ranges from 1x to 3x the number of browser-based searches. At scale, this tripling of the number of search queries performed has the potential to dramatically increase the size of the search query pie and convince the world that search is not a zero-sum game.

The key to KallOut's high level of usage is the way in which the KallOut user experience lowers the barriers to search. The three characteristics of KallOut’s selection-based search system that make this possible are the ways in which users can now:

1. invoke search using only their mouse from within the context of the Microsoft Office suite of apps, Adobe Reader, any web page, etc.,

2. receive search suggestions in the form of BestGuess menu items that are based on the context of the selected text and the wisdom of crowds,

3. view the results in floating information palettes (aka KallOuts) which can be sized, shared, docked, closed and stacked on top of the document that has the user’s primary focus

By providing a new way to search using only a mouse, KallOut is beginning to prove Aaron's thesis, that Search is Not a Zero-Sum Game.

We really appreciate Aaron writing about KallOut. It means a ton to a small company like ours to get this kind of press.

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