Do@ Aims to Disrupt Mobile Search–Including Google

It’s ironic, or maybe apropos, that you can’t find anything about the new mobile search application Do@ by Googling it. Google doesn’t track the @ symbol at all. But the Israeli company (pronounced “do-at”), which launched its free iPhone app today at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, is looking to do a number on Google. It aims to provide a new way to find stuff specifically when you’re on your phone and the iconic list of site links becomes cumbersome. Instead, a search using Do@ helps you zero in quickly what category of information you want and then sends you directly to the app that’s most likely to have just what you’re looking for.

Here’s how it works: Search for, say, “Bob Marley” using Do@, and you’re presented with a drop-down list with the query followed by categories designated with the @ sign, such as @music (where you’ll see results inside apps such as Pandora or iTunes or SoundCloud) or @movies (where the likes of Flixster or provide results).

These categories are relevant to the particular query, so a search on “sushi,” and you see “sushi @restaurants,” “sushi @food,” and so on. Then when you click on one of those, you’re whisked to an app or service such as Foodspotting or Flixster, which then shows its own mobile-optimized results for that query. You can swipe through multiple apps for a query to get more quickly to just what information you want.

You’re seeing only a selected subset of Web sites and services this way, of course, but for common queries made from a mobile phone, that may be better in most cases than a huge list of links. Do@ ranks the lists of apps and services itself at first, but you can choose your favorites or, if you’re signed into Facebook, get your friends’ amalgamated choices. Essentially, says cofounder Ami Ben David, publishers answer users’ queries themselves, using their own apps or services, their own brands, and their own business models.

The judges at the TechCrunch Disrupt startup competition who viewed the demo questioned how Do@ knows the results it’s presenting–that is, the results inside other apps and services–are actually relevant for users. “We try to stay away from making these decisions for users,” Ben David said. The judges, including Bing’s Barney Pell and Google’s Bradley Horowitz, weren’t really buying this, noting that Do@ needs to objectively determine whether its partner apps and services are actually delivering the goods.

When Ben David first demonstrated the service to me in early March, he said Do@, which has $8.6 million in venture funding including a recent $7 million round led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is “trying to be completely different.” That’s commendable, but it’s also the company’s key challenge. Google’s list of links may not be perfect for many mobile searches, but it’s still not bad, and Google’s Instant Search solves some of the hassle of doing multiple search queries on a phone keyboard. Persuading users to change their behavior, even for something that may work better in many cases, is a huge hurdle that virtually no Google rival has yet jumped.

And given that Do@ isn’t doing the heavy lifting to index the Web’s huge collection of sites, or vetting the actual search results its partners offer, its key offering amounts to a new user interface for mobile search. Which sounds like a set of features–albeit a very nicely designed set of features, one likely to be copied if it proves effective–more than a company.

Bing-Yahoo May Challenge Google. Just Not Yet.

Two days ahead of reporting its third-quarter earnings, Google continues to gain on the combined search engines of Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing–at least in the amount advertisers are spending on search ads. That’s the conclusion of the latest surveys from two search marketing companies, Efficient Frontier and SearchIgnite.

According to Efficient Frontier, Google’s share of paid search spending rose to 77.9% in the third quarter, up from 75.8% in the second quarter. The reason, according to the company: Even though Bing has consistently provided a better return on spending than Google, the addition of Yahoo’s less effective search ads dragged the combined entity down.

Likewise, SearchIgnite said Google’s share of search spend rose to 80.2%, the highest since first-quarter 2009 and the highest since SearchIgnite began tracking spending in 2007. Even though Bing led the growth in spending among the major search engines, up 21% from a year ago, Yahoo fell 10%.

And things aren’t likely to change anytime soon, adds Efficient Frontier:

Google will likely see relatively significant gains in the fourth quarter as both seasonality and the Bing- Yahoo! integration skew spend in their favor.   The seasonal retail focus of Q4 typically favors Google in spend as they over-index in retail at over 80% share.  The changing efficiency of the Bing-Yahoo! integration will likely see some additional, although likely temporary, spend shift in Google’s favor.

Still, it’s hardly game over for Binghoo. SearchIgnite says click-throughs on the combined service have risen because Bing’s ad-serving formula is delivering better results, so advertisers are ready to spend relatively more–especially since they really want an alternative to challenge Google’s dominance.

What’s more, search advertising looks to be continuing its rebound (as does overall online advertising), the company says:

Paid search spend in Q3 increased 5.8% year-over-year compared with flat growth a year ago and exhibited positive momentum month-over-month, with July growing 4.9%, August 5.8% and September 6.7%. The growth throughout the quarter bodes well for a strong Q4.

Efficient Frontier saw a similar trend and also anticipates a strong fourth quarter:

In Q3 2010, the SEM sector extended its 2010 growth streak. Year on Year (YoY) spend was up 19% with a solid 6% sequential Quarter on Quarter (QoQ) growth. The important metrics of CPC, clicks, and impressions all rose indicating both strong advertiser and consumer demand. Overall return on investment (ROI) in search is up 8% YoY, a critical factor driving the rising CPCs and overall advertiser demand.

Efficient Frontier believes search will grow in the range of 15-20% in Q4. Efficient Frontier’s reason for Q4 search optimism is built on the following three reasons. First, retail has led the way for search in 2010 with consistent growth. Next, Q3’s 19% YoY growth in spend on more difficult comps and slight sequential rise is a positive signal. Finally, strengthening ROI numbers with increasing CPCs bode well for overall advertiser demand.

There’s one wild card this holiday season in online advertising: Facebook. Efficient Frontier anticipates that a lot of advertisers will up their test budgets for ads on Facebook.

Google’s Marissa Mayer Live at TechCrunch Disrupt

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice-president of search products & user experience, is holding a fireside chat at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this afternoon. One of the best-known faces of the search giant, she often provides clues to where the look and feel of Google’s signature service is heading. She’s talking with TechCrunch editor and newly minted millionaire Mike Arrington.

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Google’s Eric Schmidt Live at TechCrunch Disrupt: What’s Coming Next

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is a surprise visitor to TechCrunch Disrupt, promising to talk about “what’s coming next.” Here’s what he has to say:

What we’re really doing is building an augmented version of reality. It’s really about making people happier. That to me is the opportunity that is really before us.

Three trends are accelerating (though to be honest I’m not sure I divined precisely which three trends he’s highlighting):

* Mobile, meaning smartphones. Your strategy should be mobile first. Mobile Web adoption is occuring eight times faster than the Web on the PC. We have pervasive connectivity. It’s no longer the case that your music player can be disconnected from a WiFi network. LTE (Long Term Evolution), which will bring 8-10 MB of bandwidth, is coming to many cities soon.

* Cloud computing. Example: We can now demonstrate and are about to ship products that allow you to speak in English in your phone and have it come out in another language at the other end. This is the stuff of science fiction. The fact that this can be done in a half-second to a quarter-second, which we think is too slow, is amazing. Cloud computing will be fundamentally expressed in these new services that will make your life just work.

This concept of making humans better is not a new concept–Bill Gates 15-20 years ago. Had to do all the infrastructure and AI work to make it happen.

Essential goal: We want to give you your time back.  This explosion of information is so much larger than we ever anticipated that we need help with. We do more than 2 billion searches a day.

The mobile opportunity is so large it’s breathtaking. The search traffic from Android phones more than tripled in the first half of 2010.

* Openness. He touts Android etc. vs. others’ closed platforms, unnamed of course.

We (Internet companies) fundamentally are giving people an enormous amount of power, which disrupts the power of governments and other institutions.

Imagine a future involving all of us that looks roughly like this: It’s a future where you don’t forget anything. In this future, you never get lost. It used to be fun to get lost. With technology, we will know your location down to an inch. Computers will drive our cars. It’s a bug that cars came before computers.

You can really have all the world’s information at your fingertips. And we can do it dynamically and in real time. You also can know what to pay attention to right now. You’re never lonely because your friends are always online. If you’re awake, you’re probably online, and your children definitely are. Instead of wasting time watching television, now you can waste time watching the Internet.

You’re never out of ideas–where to go, what to eat. This is a future for the average person, not the elites. Because of technology and information access, this is a future for a billion people now, 2 billion people next year, etc.

This is a future committed to doing good, to giving people more of what they want to do.

And now to questions and, one would hope, more specifics and less utopian talk:

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LIVE at Google’s Search On Event: Google Instant Debuts

Google‘s much-anticipated event promising to chart out the future of search is about to start, and the auditorium at SF MOMA is packed with press. You can view the event on YouTube. Assuming the wireless network holds up, I’ll liveblog the highlights here. And the anticipation is indeed thick. Google Fellow and search honcho Amit Singhal, sitting in front of me, leans back to tell me, “This is a day you won’t forget.” OK!

Update: Google’s blog post on Google Instant is up now, along with lots more information. To sum up, Google has essentially slashed several seconds off the time it takes to form and type in queries. As you type, Google keeps guessing what your full query is, streaming out new search results with each new letter. And that’s huge. Maybe, as some people have speculated, the rise of Microsoft’s Bing search engine goaded Google into making more and faster improvements in search–or maybe not. But it’s clear, if it weren’t already, that Google isn’t resting on its laurels. And for now, it has set a new bar in search.

Here’s a video intro from Google:

And on to the event: PR director Gabriel Stricker comes on to explain that what Google does is one part art, one part science (well, seems like at least 5 parts science but anyway). Thus the event here at the Museum of Modern Art.

He adds that speed will be a large part of what’s being announced today. And now Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience, comes on. She says Google has just passed 1 billion users a week, making Google one of the most-used services (Internet or not) in the world.

In 2009, Google rolled out more than 500 changes in search. Already this year, more than that.  A few of the improvements:

* Caffeine: 50% fresher results.

*Real-time search, including timeline views and conversation views.

* Spell corrections: They’re now part of the autocomplete function as you type in a query.

* Enhancements to questions and answers.

* Stars in search: the ability to bookmark results for users signed into Google.

* Redesign: In April, Google added a left-hand panel to refine search results.

* And of course fun: first TV commercial, during the Super Bowl.

“We want search to be fun, fast, and interactive.”

And so, today’s announcement… but first Mayer provides a little art history on a Matisse painting at MOMA. Which she points out would have taken days in a library to research in 1935. Today, the Internet provides real-time info, like whether the piece is actually on display at this time.

Mayer says people take about 9 seconds to enter a query, Google takes about 300 milliseconds to deliver it, plus 800 more milliseconds network time, and then people take 15 seconds to select a result. But at some point, we’re up against speed of typing and thinking. The past few months, Google has been attacking this problem. So: Today Google is launching Google Instant, which gives search results as you type and streams those results real-time–apparently like what I saw last night.

The home page looks the same until you start typing. So type “sfm” and you get actual results for SF MOMA. So that obviously has the potential to vastly reduce the query-typing time.

Actually, Mayer says, it’s not “search as you type,” but “search BEFORE you type,” in a sense. “There’s even a psychic element to it,” she adds, anticipating what you might mean. (Sure to freak out privacy advocates.)

Mayer: It means much faster search, much easier search, more ways to explore. Google Instant will be available later today on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and IE8, rolling out gradually. It will be part of the core Web search experience. Also will roll out in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia in the next week, if you’re signed into Google.

We think Google Instant will help users save 2 to 5 seconds per query. May not seem like much, but that’s a lot of time, over time. And of course, potentially a lot more Google ads viewed.

Now Joanna Wright, director of product management, and Othar Hansson, senior staff software engineer, come onstage to show the three main features of Google Instant. Wright says to think of the features as gears in a system.

1) Instant results: There’s no need to finish typing or type “enter.” Hansson types one letter, “w” and gets results for weather in San Francisco.

2) Set of predictions: Hansson types in “the gi” on the way to typing “the girl with the dragon tattoo,” and links for the movie and book title appear. This is an example of the idea of “search before you type.”

3) Scroll to search: Hansson starts typing “yose” and gets results for Yosemite, and can quickly scroll the suggestions in the drop-down box below the search box, and as he scrolls, those results come up instantly, so you don’t have to leave the original query and can quickly scan a lot of relevant results. For example, he starts typing in “Addams Family,” then sees that the musical is what he’s interested in, and pressing tab adds that word. Then he wants tickets, so he types “t” and then a suggested result for “Addams Family musical tickets” appears instantly.

Wright: Google works seamlessly as it always has. All it does it speed things up. So if you know how to do Google search, you know how to do Google Instant . (This is key, since too many newfangled search features require changing behavior, taking extra steps, and the vast majority of people just don’t do it. Google has been bemoaning this for years, but here it has found at least one way for people to refine results with virtually no added effort.)

And now a sneak preview of something coming out this fall: Hansson: We’re working hard to get this on mobile. Because typing on a phone is slower than on a keyboard, Google Instant should be even more useful on mobile devices. This will be available later this fall.

Ben Gomes, a Google distinguished engineer, comes on to explain the technology behind it. He says some people within Google said it would be too expensive, or too complex. But upper management said, “We have to do it.” Three challenges: user interface design, search as an application, and efficiency and scale.

On the user interface: Actually, one Google engineer demoed this years ago, calling it “incremental Google search,” but Google wasn’t fast enough to handle it. Hansson says showing early incremental results was actually distracting at first with test users, but says Google eventually got the timing right to reduce that distraction factor.

On search as an application: Had to optimize all kinds of things, most of them way over users’ heads.

On efficiency and scale: Gomes: How do we possibly do this without melting down our data centers? Several optimizations, says Hansson, in the initial prototype, in prioritizing searches, in caching (storage) of results, and many more they’re not talking about.

Gomes thanks the team that did this, showing a slide with the photos of more than 200 people.

Summing up, Gomes says Google Instant “makes search much more fun, fluid, and interactive,” as well as faster. Mayer calls it “search at the speed of thought.” Now she talks about the Google Instant team was inspired by Bob Dylan, showing a video to Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. OK, I think it’s time for questions…. And indeed it is, with the principals joined by Google cofounder Sergey Brin and Udi Manber, the VP of engineering responsible for core search.

There are numbers counting on two screens at the sides of the auditorium, clicking upward by 11 each second–the number of hours saved per second by Instant, according to Google’s estimate.

Q: When will Instant get into the browser itself (where many people do queries)? Mayer: A few months. (Not sure why it will take that long, but it can’t come too soon. I don’t often search from itself.)

Q: What impact will Instant have on advertising? Mayer: The overall clicks to a site should remain similar.

Missing a few questions, sorry….

Q: Is there a blacklist for certain words? (This from an AdAge reporter with the last name of Slutsky.) Wright: We filter for violence, pornography. We won’t show results until you actually press enter.

Q: How much personal info is needed to do these predictive results? Mayer: For weather, for example, it’s not personal info, it’s IP address that implies location.

Q: Where does the machine-human interface go from here? Brin: Jokes that he wanted to say “We want to make Google the third half of your brain.” “It’s a little bit of a new dawn in computing. Things have been stagnant on the desktop for a decade.” That’s changing now with the Web and new platforms.

Q: What’s the impact on search engine optimization? Gomes: Basically, ranking stays the same. So in that sense there’s not that big a change in people trying to adapt to the search engine (changes).

Q: What about China, given that Google results are blocked there? Mayer: Goal is to roll out in as many platform and geographies as possible. Hope to roll out on, the Hong Kong site.

Q: What are the benefits of this for the average user? Does the average user want faster search? Duh.

Q: How will this impact concerns about privacy? Brin: Privacy is something that we think a lot about as a company. Users place a lot of trust with us. I don’t think Google Instant is any different in that respect.

Q: How will user behavior change over time with Google Instant? Gomes: You may do more multiple queries around your result… because it’s such a fluid experience. People are going to explore their topic of interest much more than they did before.

Q: Did some test users not like this, and if so, why? Mayer: Some users did choose to turn it off, but mostly for connection speed issues, and a very small percentage.

Q: Is this separate from Caffeine? Gomes: Not directly related, but faster cache of Caffeine makes Instant more possible.

Q: How will Instant affect paid search, and will it mean the end of SEO? Wright: The ranking of our search results is the same.

Q: Did you ever think that you would reach this point? Brin: It’s kind of amazing the things we can do today, with Moore’s Law etc. We did have to spend a lot more compute power on it.

Q: Can search get even faster? Gomes: Tomorrow, I’m sure we’re going to go back tomorrow and try to make things even faster, because that’s what we do. Manber: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Q: Won’t the fact that this reduces the need to go to Page 2 of search results affect search ads? Wright: This is a user-focused launch. And we really believe that’s going to be better for advertisers. Don’t anticipate any fewer ads to be shown. (Wright seems confused by the question, but I also wonder why there wouldn’t be some impact on the number of ads shown, or at least whether advertisers will bother trying to get ads anywhere but the top and right of the first page. Indeed, Steve Rubel thinks Instant makes SEO irrelevant. John Ebberts at also has some insider thoughts on what Instant could mean for various kinds of online advertising.)

Q: Last one, from Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan: Sometimes the top search results are not really right, so how will Instant affect that? Hansson says basically that it’s faster to get to more relevant results, even those that would have appeared on page 2 or later.

And that’s it.

Google to Revamp Search Results, Yet Again

Google’s much-teased search event at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art gets underway at 9:30 a.m. Pacific Wednesday, and I’ll be there to blog the highlights. (You can also watch it live on Google’s YouTube channel.) Tonight, after checking out the new logo that progressively recovers its usual colors as you type in letters, it sure looked like it had something to do with real-time updating of search results as you type. Google has been testing those for some time, but not in such a forward fashion if memory serves.

The logo replaced an earlier one that involved bouncing balls that interacted with the cursor, which the company said was intended to show how it aims to make search “fast, fun and interactive.” The Guardian noted that the way that logo was coded suggests the next, more interactive generation of Web programming. Google also promised invited press that it would “share our latest technological innovation and to get an inside look at the evolution of Google search.”

I suspect from the hype that there will be much more. Barry Schwartz of the Search Engine Roundtable blog has a few guesses:

(1) AJAX powered search results. Yes, I believe Google will go forward with the AJAX powered search results tomorrow. Yesterday, I and others began noticing 30 results per page, but when I look deeper, it is driven by the AJAX like results. I can search, the URL doesn’t really change, it just adds on parameters, which makes me believe that it is done for analytics software. Why? This is something Google tested in February 2009 and stopped when complaints about referrer data not being sent using these AJAX results. Is it time for Google to go full force now with the AJAX results? It is “faster” for the user, which is a clue from the line above.

(2) 30 results per page is something I personally see myself and so do others. People are reporting it atWebmasterWorld and Google Web Search Help. It does make the results a bit more in your face, giving you more room to scroll. I am not sure if that makes things all that faster, but I guess it does. Is it more “fun,” I don’t know.

(3) Streaming Results As You Type. We know Google has been testing updating results as you type for the past few weeks. Many more are now seeing it, which is even more of a sign that this is coming soon. We have new reports of it at Google Blogoscoped Forums and WebmasterWorld. It does make the search results more “interactive” and a bit “faster.” More useful, I am not sure.

Google has been continually criticized, most recently (and inaccurately) by competitors, as failing to move beyond the iconic “10 blue links.” I suspect whatever Google announces will finally put an end to that epithet.


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