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February 20, 2008

SES London 08: The Changing World of Search, Keynote Roundtable

By Li Evans

Introduction by: Nick Carr, Author of The Big Switch, Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google
Dsc_3180Nick actually isn't here, but recorded a video for the audience.  Nick fell and broke his ribs and has a collapsed lung and was advised not to fly.

Kevin is showing a couple of headlines - "Microsoft vs. Google".  "Google weighs in against Microsoft".  "Microsoft to Target Yahoo! Investors".  "News Corp Joins the Yahoo! Battle".  "Yahoo Tells Shareholders They are Better Off With Current Managers".

Video from Nick Carr: 
It is a very important time in computing and history of communication.  Everyone in Search Marketing is playing a crucial role in this change.  He thinks one of the clearest indications something is going on is MS's bid to purchase Yahoo!

On one hand MS's motivation is tactical because of its lack of success in Search, and Yahoo! offers a quick fix.  Bigger story though is the change in the way computing and content is being delivered to our homes.  It use to be decentralized mode of supply, where we produced ourselves to centralized where there's a central place its made and supplied from. 

Up until the end of the 19th century, if you wanted to run a machine, you had to build your own electricity generator.  As soon as the electric grid was made, suddenly we had a new option, efficient supply at great distances.  We are seeing a similar thing happening in computing.  The world wide web is turning into the world wide computer. 

We are seeing this change quite quickly in the home and small business area.  Young people are running most of their software online, they aren't buying their own software in the store and installing it on their computers.  They are going to sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, MySpace - everything is happening online.

The software industry is starting to look like the media.  They don't make money from directly selling the software, they make it indirectly.  They have to figure out how to act like media companies, by supplying advertising to support the software development. 

On the business side, things move more slowly because of the investment into the data centers.  Also no one knows if this data model will work there or not.  However we will likely see it rise on a subscription model rather than what happens on home side.

Microsoft is still making money on the "old" side, however they are seeing this switch happening and if it wants to keep making money, they have to move to this new model.  Yahoo! gives to MS the ability to support this model.  It doesn't say it's going to happen (the merger), it says MS sees this and recognizes this and it's a world that Google is dominating this arena.

This is going to change a great deal about economics and society.  We've seen the rise of effecient companies such as Craig's List, Skype - these employ a small work forces, but serve more people than big companies that aren't on the web right now such as British Telecom. 

Search Marketers play a crucial role in privacy.  As more and more comes online by people and their personal data, the danger comes from data mining and SEO techniques.  It will eventually bring about the ability to monitor people and what they are doing online.  The challenge to Search Marketers is to figure out the standards and the ethics of what we offer up information wise while still giving people all the information they need. 

Panel Discussion:
Dsc_3182 Kevin points out Google is the clear leader, Microsoft is clearly behind.  Yahoo! dominates email and news.  Now asks the panel to introduce themselves.

Paul: He's spent 8 years at MS, 20 years in technology management.  He's currently CTO of iCrossing.  When he first heard the news he thought "at last", he doesn't think its competition for Google.  When Yahoo! and Microsoft work together, amazing things happen, he points to Flickr.  Its a small incremental growth, nothing of significance.

Erica: Global Director of Search for Isobar.  Her first reaction was "excellent". In the US its a "search game"  MS has not been able to get their game together on search.  Yahoo! has missed out too.  These two can align and maybe give Google a run for their money.  Who knows if they can actually merge these two distinct companies together.  As consumers it's good as well.

Bryan:  Co-Founder of Future Now, Inc.  His view is different.  MS has come to the realization of duality.  They know they are loosing it to Yahoo!, with Yahoo! they could be a solid "2" instead of "3".  It will be fun to watch if they can come together

Steve:  His first reaction was "wow".  How is this going to affect the search world.  Much bigger deal than search.  There's a lot of moving pieces to what each brings to the table.  It's not an easy thing to make this happen if it does because both companies are about culture.

Mike:  He thinks it would be best for humanity if he ran search so he's going to buy them both - crowd laughs.  What does it mean to the consume.  Google's like a utility, they are a technology company that can provide this easily.  Yahoo! and MS are more like media company.  If you think about Yahoo went on a spending spreee bought AltaVista,etc.  Pulling these two together culture wise is tough, but if its about search, its easy they did it before.

Kevin:  Do you think that Yahoo!'s has conceded Defeat?

Bryan:  Defeat no, that they ever will regain dominance, yes.  Their focus is on everything else but search.
Steve:  I agree, and Jerry came and spoke to us when we were there.  Yahoo! has the largest display advertising server on the planet. 
Bryan:  They are a media company not a search company
Mike:  If you take a look at Yahoo! land they are focising on social media and media, its not just about search.

Kevin:  Analyst are so ill informed.  As we look at search, Yahoo! should just outsouce search and call it a day do you agree?
Paul:  No, they should focus on giving the consumer the best experience they can.  Things can grow and form very quickly.  They can't really do it with search, maybe more with social, "web 3.0"
Erica:  Google doesn't have this ability.  If Yahoo! and MS can come together on this, they can give Google a run for their money
Bryan:  There's never been a business that has the scale like Yahoo!  There's been other leaders in the past that have come and gone.   What we're going to see in search in the future is getting on the phone and "saying" i want this and getting it.  That's an open ball game no one has captured yet.

Quetions from Audience:
Yahoo! seems like the unwilling prom date.  What about the other potential partners?
Paul:  The Fox move is interesting.  Appears to be a good fit.  But I get nervous about Murdoch.  But it's a very good fit between them
Bryan:  Interesting, but a so-so combination.  They are talking about swapping Myspace - that's a waste.
Kevin: Why?
Bryan:  Its like the old Geocities, its dying a slow death.

Erica:  Privacy issues that Nick pointed out in the video, people are hesitant to give to Google, but Yahoo! is more trusting.  People are bashing Google for privacy.
Mike:  But Google isn't evil - I saw it on their homepage!   Google can crawl a lot of different types of documents types.  Do a search for "business plan" find type .xls.  We're feeding all of this to Google.
Steve:  There's a lot of education that needs to take place.  Data isn't being used for "evil" it is fore relevancy
Bryan:  At the end of the day people just want good content
Paul:  I want to control my information, and be able to release it to the right people.  My medical records, my personal information, my shopping behavior etc.  Yahoo! has been looking at this.
Bryan:  Its all about transparency.  Lets not just focus on search, old media is looking at this too. Its across everything that touches you every day.

Greg Jarboe:  Stock market has weighed in.  MS's shareprice when down.  If MS would have taken that money and bought different companies rather than all their eggs in the Yahoo basket, what would you ahve advised?

Bryan:  Market is very reactive.  As far as buying 44 different companies you still have that culture issue of combining.  But investing it into the companies, yes.
Kevin:  Erica you are integrating companies very well.  Do you think these companies will have the wear with all to put a series of teams in place to orchestrate a change like this.
Erica:  Could they do it?  MS is the dinasour when compared to Yahoo!, AOL, they are very young companies.  My concern there's a culture class.  Management style - Balmer vs. Yang - completely opposite.  Yang is "one of the guys" they are pioneers of the web.  MS is an old company when you compare it to Google and Yahoo!.  They seem to try, but just can't "get" it.  They respond it's a 10 year game, but they aren't moving quickly enough and that's the issue.  That's the nice thing about Google, they buy companies and integrate them quite rapidly.  MS & Yahoo! trememdous amount of issues to get their.
Mike:  Neither one is a stranger to acquisition.  Depends on what you want to integrate first.  But going back to Greg's question, that would be a good idea.

Kevin:  Google is delving into media acquisitions.  What happens when the ad exchanges are open.  How much of the money for advertising is going to Google?

Steve:  I think the offline media doesn't have a lot of scale yet.  Its a tough sell to our clients. You get some early market learning.  No scale, but it will continue to grow.  Advertisers want to know where their brands are going to show up.  Clients aren't willing to put ads and logos where they don't have control.

Does the panel have any thoughts on if the deal went through, what would happen over the next year, would the engines remain separte?
Mike:  One of the strongest points of the deal.  Yahoo! has the bigger subscriber data - Google has users base that is higher.  Yahoo! and MS could do a good job of integrating
Paul:  MS and Yahoo! are doing it alrady with the messenger clients.

Can Search be Too Personal?

Paul:  I'm with you.  I like to search and discover new things.  But why should just one company own that shopping data?  Why can't I own it and give it to who I want too.
Bryan:  If you think there is such a thing as privacy, think again.  Credit bureaus know everything.  There are disadvantages.  They'll sacrifice convenience to not give up some privacy.  Its all about a balance.

If not Yahoo! who?
Mike:  It's just another change the industry is just evolving
Steve:  Google's not conceding any time soon
Bryan:  Who know what will be in 10 years, we don't know, roll with the punches today.
Erica:  Baidu.  We need to keep their eyes on Baidu.  They can move quickly and cheaply.
Paul:  Obama, Hillary or ... everyone just laughs now.  :)


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