YIN AND YANG TOGETHER AGAIN
Around the blog landscape this morning, the initial vote seems lukewarm, as seen on memeorandum. I pulled out some excerpts from some of the folks who had good posts and whose opinion I respect:
- Techcrunch: "Google Base Launched, Yuck".
- Fred Wilson: "It's a good idea except that this content is getting created all over the place already."
- Bubblegeneration: "It gives us the first hints of Google's coming strategy decay".
- Dave Winer: "It's a new bit of functionality, a cell in the matrix filled-in."
- Paul Kedrosky: "Google Base, none for me, thanks".
My one liner? "Google Base today is a glimpse of Google 2.0".
Expanded one-liner? "Google Base evolves the core Google Search into a Google Search and Directory service".
That is a big deal. Why? Because this OVER TIME fuses the universal STRUCTURE and utility of a DIRECTORY, with the immediate gratification and user interface of Google Search.
And as it did with Google Mail (Gmail), Google has an important twist to the Directory idea as implemented so far in the first decade of the commercial Internet.
Some Internet history may be in order here, so please bear with me. I'll try and keep it brief.
A point of disclosure: I had the opportunity to work with Yahoo! as the lead research analyst on it's IPO in April 1996.
One of the original appeals to me of Yahoo! when it was founded in 1995, was that it was a directory first and search engine second. This was in sharp contrast to its then emerging competitors like Excite, Alta Vista, Lycos and others. Those companies were founded on new search technologies that crawled and indexed the Internet, much as they do today, only with much more elaborate algorithms and data processing.
There were two problems with this approach back then, in my view.
1. The commercial internet was new, and there wasn't much mainstream content out on the web back then.
2. Early and mainstream users were unfamiliar with what the internet could do for them, and needed a lot more hand-holding and structure in finding items of relevance.
Thus, Yahoo!'s initial approach to providing a human-powered directory, was a logical first step. The company in its early days had dozens and then hundreds of employees finding new sites and organizing them into a navigable directory. Thus the name "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle," as the legend goes.
The front page of the core Yahoo! still reflects this heritage.
In fact, Yahoo! didn't have it's own search technology at the time, a fact that I thought was an advantage over it's peers. The assumption was that search technology would be improved by many third parties, given the nascent stage of the industry, and Yahoo! could license the next big search technology to supplement the directory. In the beginning, Yahoo! licensed the technology from Open Text.
For the next few years, that was how Yahoo! executed it's search functionality. When you typed a word or phrase into Yahoo!, the results page first served up the best hits from the directory, followed by the results from the licensed search engine.
Over time, as search technologies improved rapidly, and as internet content exploded, the mechanics and economics of this strategy become more cumbersome.
Human powered directories could not be updated as fast, while users were getting more trained to expect the best results quickly.
For a while, Alta Vista's technology was then viewed as the cat's meow, and in the efficacy of it's search results amongst advanced users, it was the Google of it's time (it didn't have the business model of today's Google of course, which is why it's an interesting footnote in search history).
Ten years later, Google Base brings this chain of events to a full circle, in my view.
With Google Base, the company now POTENTIALLY has a human-powered directory of it's own, that can supplement results to it's core search engine. It's Yahoo!'s early approach in reverse.
And this time around, it's not just dozens or hundreds of humans powering the directory, it's potentially millions.
To put in mainstream terms, Google Base is a Lego set for users to submit and categorize any kind of content that's important to them.
This makes Google Base kind of the elephant being described by blind-folded folks:
1. "It's Online Classifieds" and will go after Craigslist.
2. "It's Online shopping" and will go after eBay and Amazon.
4. "It's an Online repository for photos, music and videos" and will go after Flickr, iTunes and others.
5. "It's a way to tag content" and will go after del.icio.us and others.
6. "It's a way to to put resumes online" and will go after Monster, Indeed and others.
7. "It's a way to do online photos, music, videos, etc." and will go after Flickr, iTunes, and others.
8. "It's a way to back into online databases, potentially word processors and spreadsheets", and so go after Microsoft.
And so on. The answer is it can be all of those things. And none of them.
And as a bonus for Google, it takes some wind from the sails of all these potential competitors, Web 2.0 or not.
It will likely not have the comprehensive functionality of any of the above standalone sites for quite some time, or possibly ever.
But in the meantime, it lays down the infrastructure to establish a human-powered directory, where users are doing all the work of submitting stuff into it, "user-generated content" or otherwise.
It's a starting point for user-generated categories, which can then be augmented with a more advanced automated tagging taxonomy and algorithms to create a super-tagging directory.
It's User-Interface can be morphed into different directions once the core product gets some user traction.
It can be monetized in a variety of different ways once it gets critical mass.
It can be centralized and de-centralized using peer-to-peer approaches, using Google Desktop personalization over time.
But it's a great start on changing the way directories have been done to date on the Internet.
I'll end the post with an example from the alpha/beta version of Google Base announced today:
"Chicken Tikka Masala originated from the kitchens of Bangladeshi chefs in Britain. It is probably the most popular Indian dish in the world. Indeed, British politician Robin Cook described it as "a true British national dish".
Its popularity has proven so great that almost every Indian restaurant worldwide now offers it. It has conquered even the Indian subcontinent, and has arguably replaced Tandoori Chicken as the flagship of Indian food."
Now go to a basic Google search page, and type in "Chicken Tikka Masala" in quotes.
You get a page with the normal Google results, but the entry from the Google Base directory is listed first before the search results.
Opposite of the way Yahoo! used to do it. The two parts search and directory, come together again.
Full Circle. Yin and Yang.
Google Base provides some structure to the basic Google Search. Not too much like a traditional directory, but just enough for the item to be discoverable by the same basic "type it in a search box and go" approach that most of us are already addicted to.
And the directory doesn't look like a directory...you don't get to it in a hierarchichal fashion, but directly via the search box. The directory innards are hidden in what is now being called a "database" and a "classifieds" engine. But it's there, and it's going to grow.
To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, it's a small step for Google, but potentially giant step for searching via Google. Economics to follow.
If you want to review what exists today on the Directory front from Google, Yahoo! and others, check out this list from livinginternet:
"Resources. Some of the major directory sites are listed below:
Google Directory Google Directory Directory Open Directory Project * Yahoo Directory Yahoo Directory Directory"
1. Bill Burnham has an excellent piece on Google Base explaining the potential structure of the XML and RSS directory database architectures that Google Base leads to, along with the implications for software in general, and enterprise software in particular. Recommended.