Search Tools Converge on the Desktop

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May 16, 2005

May 2005 Issue

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Searching For Dollars
Most of these tools are available as a free download, but with pent up consumer demand for this functionality, it begs the question, why are these companies paying to develop, purchase, or license these products yet not charging a fee for the software? Price suggests that it could be a simple matter of keeping the company brand in front of consumers—a job he says is increasingly difficult for companies, given Google's marketing prowess.

"One of the things that Google does better than any other company I've ever come across, and not just search companies, is the job of marketing," Price says. "Once Google makes an announcement, everyone seems to pay attention. The challenge that the others face is keeping up with the marketing of the products and keeping their names in front of people, and Google does that so well, I believe it is a big challenge for the others," Price says.

Price says these tools provide a way to focus the attention, even if briefly, on each company. "I think to a certain degree, it's about keeping up with the others, but there is also a lot of good will putting yourself out there, and that's important," Price says.

Burns sees the desktop as the next battleground for Internet keywords, which are used to serve up the text ads you see in all of the search engines after completing a search, and he believes the next great source of keyword inventory is going to be the desktop. "The desktop is where things are going to go because all the large search engines are constantly looking for fresh new keyword inventory and there are always more people who want to buy the keywords than the portals have," Burns says.

Google, however, insists that its main motivation is not to tap the desktop for keywords, but to lead users back to Google.com, where they can conduct Web searches. "We believe that people who use desktop search are more likely to use searches on Web and go to Google.com," says Nikhil Bhatla, product manager for desktop search at Google. In fact, the Google indexing tool, by default, returns results with the desktop search results at the top of the Results list, with Web results further down (although users can change this if they wish). Google has no plans to serve ads to the desktop and is careful to point out that no desktop data is sent back to Google.

X1 plans to use the desktop version of its tool as a catalyst to market an enterprise version. Mark Goodstein, founder and EVP for Business Development at X1, says one of the reasons it licensed its product to Yahoo! was that it gave them a way to establish credibility at the consumer level. "The consumer market was a way to get out there. We never thought we had budget or muscle to establish a brand, so we saw we needed larger partner to help us do that. We perceive the value of the product to be in the enterprise as the interface to email and files, as well as other data repository that are ill-served by single-search interfaces," Goodstein says.

Privacy, Please
A tool that provides a way to index every version of every file, email, and other document you ever create is a powerful proposition. It provides the opportunity to do things like retrieve files deleted by mistake or to access information such as a client's cell phone number inside an email you received years before. In the case of Google, its tool is capable of indexing every Web page you ever visit (including secure ones) as well as all of your instant messaging conversations. This kind of computer memory of everything you have ever touched could work for you or against you, depending on the circumstances.

Price says that there have been warnings against using desktop indexing tools in corporate environments, but he points out that most large enterprise settings are so locked down that it is not really an issue, but that it could be an issue in smaller enterprise settings or in those companies that are not as tightly controlled. "If someone wants to see what you've been working on or the Web sites you've been visiting, they could type in a couple of words and get results in a second or so," Price says, but he says you can safeguard against this by making sure you computer is secure and locked up whenever you walk away.

Bhatla says, "The information on your computer is only as secure as your computer. If someone has access to your machine, they aren't going to need desktop search tools to get information. Your information is there." That said, Google acknowledges that its tool may not be a good choice in an enterprise setting. "We do understand that there are companies that have policies against these kind of services and we respect that. I don't think it's specific to Google, per se. It is a category of information collection that hasn't existed before and imposes a whole new set of questions, but we believe having access to information is a very useful thing," Bhatla says. He also points out that the company will release an enterprise version at a later date that gives greater administrative control.

All of the vendors also provide various levels of control to the end user to decide what they want to index, so it is possible to carve out a place for files that you do not want to index, or in the case of Google, not index secure pages or IM conversations.

It is unclear how many people are taking advantage of the free indexing tools. None of these vendors were willing to share download numbers, but Price wonders how much is hype and how much people are actually using these tools. "Desktop search was the big thing at the end of last year. Everybody talked about it. Now it seems like nobody talks about it anymore. Then there was a flurry of activity around video search. Every week it's something new, then the buzz goes away after a week or so," Price says.

What is clear is that these products are still very new, and it will take time to deal with all of the issues around deployment, but there is little doubt about the utility of these tools and how they can bring a level of search capability to the desktop that was previously only available when searching the Web. It will take some time, however, to sort out the implications of that capability and harness the power of desktop search.


Related articles, which ran as part of the May 2005 Special Search Focus

Searching for Multimedia Tools, Paula J. Hane
Search in Any Language, Heidi Gautschi
Local Search Brings Results Home, Ron Miller


All Companies Mentioned in Special Search Focus

Annodex www.annodex.net
Basis Technology www.basistechnology.com
blinkx TV www.blinkx.com
Copernic www.copernic.com
Critical TV www.criticalmention.com
Digital Envoy www.digitalenvoy.net
Endeca www.endeca.com
Exalead www.exalead.com
Google www.google.com
Google Video http://video.google.com
Lycos www.lycos.com MSN www.msn.com
Recommind www.recommind.com
Search Engine Watch www.searchenginewatch.com
ShadowTV www.shadowtv.com
Singingfish http://search.singingfish.com
 X1 www.X1.com Yahoo! www.yahoo.com
Yahoo! Video Search http://video.search.yahoo.com

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