The idea of universal search is a hot one in the online marketing world. If you're not familiar with the term, it's basically the joining of multiple types of content into one cohesive result. For example, if you go to Google right now and search for "apples", the main listing that returns to you are text links to text content (sometimes photos and video are added in-line). They are including blogs and other social media, but it's all text based. If you want to expand your search to video, photos, pro message boards, etc. you have to click another link and you get another set of independent results. Universal search combines everything you need into one set of results.
There are a couple of sites (experimental and otherwise) where companies are playing around with this idea. Ask.com is leading the pack with their current integrated solution as Google and Yahoo play around with the idea in beta (here and here respectively).
Here is a screenshot from Ask's result page. Note the images, Wikipedia and news items pulled into the right column to supplement the text results
If you look at the text results from each of these services, there is little differentiation. Different algorithms give different priorities, but for the most part you get the same results at Google, Yahoo, Live search or Ask. Wikipedia is universally accessed as are dictionary.com and sites like Amazon.com.
The difference comes when you look at the unique properties that each search company owns. Take a look at the following, ultra-simple diagram.
My main question here is can Google win at search if Yahoo owns the best photo content? Can Yahoo win if Google owns the best user-generated video content?
Right now there is almost no sharing between them, so if you do a Google image search, you will not get Flickr images in your result and the same goes with searching for video on Yahoo as you won't get the best YouTube results.
Some questions for you to ponder and share:
- Should the companies open up all of their content to one another for the benefit of the end users? Or will they start blocking access?
- If you were Google would you sacrifice the content in the Yahoo network to make sure they can't access your content?
- Would they be violating each other's terms of service since they both make money selling ads based on the results?
- If it's not Google or Yahoo or Ask or Microsoft, who will emerge? Could it be a human-powered option like Mahalo?
- Are people getting enough from their search engine of choice that they don't need a new option?
I can't wait to hear what you have to say.