View Full Version : Is Search a Commodity?

12-01-2004, 02:34 AM
Today reading one of my favorite blogs, over at Jeremy's (http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/003148.html), a comment he made towards the end really flashed my eyes.

Search as a commodity
Got me thinking . . . . Is search a commodity? Hmmm.... there are so many things that are appearing to make seem that way and others not at all. So, I decided to take it up for discussion.

A quick raise of hands (in a poll fashion of course). Which of you think search is a commodity TODAY?

Please tell us what you think:

If "yes", why?
If "no", why?
If "not now, not ever", why?
If "not now, but for sure down the road", why?

12-01-2004, 02:40 AM
no. as information expands being able to sort through it will be worth more and more. even if the branding is the only difference that is the exact thing that prevents most things from being a commodity.

currently goog is at 50 billion.

12-01-2004, 09:51 AM
In the Search Memories (http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/000733.html) session back in San Jose of this past summer, Doug Cutting the old time senior engineer from Excite, said that search will be a commodity. Here is an excerpt with that:

Chris [Sherman] then asked them [the search legends] to look into the future.

Doug started talking about his Nutch (http://www.nutch.org/) [an open source search technology], an open source Google. People find it useful to build and search niche search engines. He said its hard to know where it will go. Its open source, good enough quality and major commercial search engines will use. That is, [Doug] predicated on that search technology is becoming a commodity and is not getting much better.

Steve doesn't like to predict in the future, but if an other Stamford student comes to him, he will listen.

I personally disagree, but it is really hard to disagree with someone with that much search history behind his belt.

12-01-2004, 10:08 AM
The market is too lucrative and the barriers are lowering every day to enter large scale search. It used to take some wizardry to configure front end clusters and back end storage but you could go pretty much off the shelf with some multithreading chips and pickup TBs of storage at the apple store to plug into.

The rest is branding. Google wins for now.

12-01-2004, 01:04 PM
Some small elements of search are indeed commodities, but "the whole" is important. The multitude of products/services offered by the major search/portal players is definitely NOT a commodity.

Google did gain in this market because of *product* -- not just because people thought its brand was more compelling than say Lycos.

Excite similarly lost precisely because they claimed search was a commodity, thus leaving it for dead.

When you look at things that overlap with and involve search, like web-based email, we are seeing significant innovation.

Some aspects of search are commodities, then, but there is so much to look at that when you see the big picture of how users will make choices of which major online services to become loyal to, it's definitely PRODUCTS that they will be evaluating.

If Yahoo offers no compelling reason to "Yahoo," for example, they could be in big trouble. Their search alone won't be that reason. Luckily many of their products and the way they aggregate info are actually world leaders. Again, it's the product. Fantasy football info is a commodity but the way Yahoo makes "everything" (including that info) more navigable is not a commodity.

12-01-2004, 01:10 PM
Excite similarly lost precisely because they claimed search was a commodity, thus leaving it for dead.
It is amazing how often all of us make somewhat declaritive statements to prove our own line of logic. While I do not know Doug and know he knows a ton more about search than I do I would be willing to bet that a large portion of his statements are based on his own past experiences.

12-01-2004, 08:16 PM
Not sure I'm following you there, seobook. Doug who? Declarative statements what? Help me out.

I actually thought I was just rehearsing some well-known facts. Excite and others decided that search wasn't important or wasn't a product that could be significantly differentiated or improved ("a commodity"), and it cost them dearly, i.e. they went bye-bye.

As Steve Thomas once told me regarding his Netscape days, at Netscape.com, the second-most accessed function on that site was search, but the importance of this fact was lost on a variety of players, and the world only woke up to search when Google proved that what users really wanted was for someone to focus on search.

Yahoo took heed eventually. It should continue to do so.

12-01-2004, 08:33 PM
Not sure I'm following you there, seobook. Doug who? Declarative statements what? Help me out.
on his blog Doug (as referenced by RustyBrick) stated that he thought search was a commodity (I believe he is the lead developer behind Nutch and worked at Excite in the past) ...
I was stating that statement was perhaps based on his own past experiences with search

12-05-2004, 09:06 PM
I've been thinking about this a bit more... it is tempting to think of search as a commodity insofar as one might tend to do search with whatever's convenient or "already installed" instead of searching for the best thing. Whoever gains control or brand awareness or a range of other "monopolistic" advantages figures out how to master the distribution channels to keep the user with their solution. The product has to get pretty bad before people will switch if it really is satisfying their basic needs.

That being said, you would think a *lot* of things are commodities, but they turn out not to be. How many people use Tide, in spite of going through long periods of experimentation or saying that they're "all the same"?

How many men switch to Mach 3 razor blades in spite of no discernible difference in shave quality (just in price)?

Aren't detergent and razor blades commodities? Seems like they should be, but no.

I suspect a similar situation exists with search, although the tech business is obviously very different from soap. My conclusion would be that it's all too easy to *claim* that "they're all the same," but folks still make a special effort to get "the real thing."

Even salt (http://www.salttraders.com/Detail.bok?no=4) doesn't seem to be a commodity.

Most likely people's choice of search (and related) tools will come down to awareness/brand/distribution, convenience, features, and personal style (look/feel of PDA, choice of web-based email address, for example). And an estimation of the purveyor's momentum in the marketplace (so it is worth the time or expense of registering for or installing related tools, portal features, etc.).

Thinking aloud, I see less and less chance that search will become a commodity. Olive oil isn't. Salt isn't.