Gerry Campbell, Vice President and General Manager of AOL Search and Navigation was first up and he went into how they have 23 Million members at 85% of those use AOL search (which is really Google now). They have grown 73% in terms of search activity whereas the whole industry only increased by 40%. AOL feels the future search is going towards: (1) localization and personalization (2) Content Integration (when you do a search, real paid content comes up) and (3) Broadband, people who search with broadband, search differently. AOL delivers a client named SmartBox, which is a navigation related search tool. Nothing too exciting here but lets see what others have to say.
Paul Gardi, SVP of Search, Ask Jeeves was next to discuss the future of search. He believes the needs of the users and the needs of the searcher will converge over time. From the user perspective you will see personalization increase and privacy increase (contradictory?). They will have to find new ways of access more and better information. And content is going to be huge. Technology front, Teoma is able to look through a lot more information faster and the user wants the answer faster. Information delivery will be any where and any time. The real future of search is understanding the intent of the user and give them what they really want. The last thing is personality from the user's perspective. On the commerce side, Teoma has not even scratched the surface of hitting all the advertisers. Dayparts to nanoparts, instead of the part of the day - they will feed up results based on the nano part of the day.
Tim Cadogan, Vice President, Yahoo! Search. Mission is to provide the best most relevant results. Understand what the user want and then how do we better deliver to better to the user and how do we extend this to all users. Personalization is going to be huge, tons of those people have signed up with Yahoo! so they have a lot of information to provide this personalized search. They feel it is critical to show the user, here are the results based on your preferences but if you want to step outside of this box, you can. Second area is how do we get more content? He first said that 99% of their 7 billion pages were captured for free BUT...They want to partner with content providers, that is why they made this new PFI program that everyone is going 'Yahoo!' about. Third area is to have multiple types of search engines and integrate those engines and deliver that information when relevant. Yahoo! Yellow pages, do a search in Yahoo! search for map or something. They utilize all their engines and will be working hard to deliver the most relevant answers through their network at Yahoo! search.
Craig Nevill-Manning, Senior Research Scientist, Google. He discussed the history of search 300 years ago, that you used a Bible to search or something. Now we know how silly that view was. He proposes the future of search would be 'search pets'. Why did he say this? Because pets understand emotion and how people work. So if Google can understand the user emotion, then they got it. Examples, Search engines of the future should be able to figure out diplomatic sayings versus straight fact. Search engines need to infer more. An other example, you ask your wife "What is wrong, Honey?" and she says "Nothing". Here the search pet would help with the answer. That got a few chuckles in the room. User interface is also going to be very important - usability. Thats all for him on this.Now for the Q and A session...stay tuned.
Danny starts off asking them to get more into personalization. Yahoo said its more about being very explicit about what you have done to personalize the results and then asking them, what do you want to do now? Its about control and access. AOL said he agrees with Yahoo, but said the steps are very small but needs to be done now. AOL also feels that understanding the connection speed will be a huge future to search. Google said he feels personalization has been going on for a few years and Google has done this based on geo-filtering now, do a search in an other country. Teoma, said he agrees with Google that you do not need to personalize based on the individual person but rather based on a subgroup of people. If you get too personal, then it might go overboard. So to balance the privacy issue, this can greatly help. So to sum, personalizing on a general level is the way to go for Teoma and Google.
AOL would not put a time frame on when they will be doing these personalization enhancements. He said it can be a year, a few months, etc. but it will be gradual and newer enhancements over time. They all say it will happen over time...
How do you see the advertising things of sides getting simpler? Yahoo! answered first, he said that as searchers become more specific, it helps them. He feels that buying keywords will be more about buying concepts in the future. They can then map concepts and keywords within those concepts work better or worse, they will automatically adjust the keywords within the concept to improve ROI. AOL spoke next, but they dont own any PPC program so he talked from that perspective. Teoma/Ask Jeeves, he said you can't ignore that advertising is part of the user's search experience. So if you can create a better experience (give relevant ads back) then ROI will increase. Google said until searchers trust the search engines, it won't change much but they are getting there. Yahoo added that they need feedback to get to that point (hint the PFI and CPC they just launched).
Danny said it looks like to do well in search, you will need to pay. How do small business compete? Yahoo! took that right away, since it was kind of pointed towards them. He said the free search is there and 99% of their index is free. Yahoo is also making partnerships with non profits for free but as if they paid. Commercial companies if they want the same service will have to pay. Yahoo is looking to get all content (that is good content) in the index for free but in addition you can pay. Google does not charge for inclusion and has no plans on doing so. Google believes in separating those out (everyone clapped at that statement). Google said its too hard to separate it out without providing preferential treatment to the ones that pay, providing skewed results. Yahoo! said right after that, that there is no bearing at all on which results come up, its based solely on relevancy. AOL backed Google but said they are interested in what Yahoo is doing. Teoma/Ask Jeeves is experimenting with PFI and the site submit program seems to be working well. Sometimes when they can not find your site, site submit has been very helpful. But relevancy is key and it still needs some more work.
Danny's next question was how do we come up with more variety with results that come up in the SERPs. AOL said your right, we need to improve or we will be hurt. Yahoo said its all about spam and combatting it. They are using the same approach they used for combatting email spam with search engine spam. Google is getting better at it... Teoma said they work differently, they know about the communities on the Internet and then they can use different communities and serve those results up to diversify the SERPs. Currently they have related search on the right which helps.
Danny then asked, Search is becoming more competitive with MSN an Yahoo and Google, will there be one company or what will happen? Google i couldn't hear there response. Yahoo said they feel there will be one engine in the future and they are committed to be that engine. Teoma said if you look at the usage patterns, users have been using many search sites, not just one. Different search engines have different information within their respective indexes. He feels it will be very hard to have one engine to monopolize the industry.
Danny's final question was, what is your thoughts on government regulation on search? Yahoo said there first goal is about quality results for the user. AOL said its all about honesty, the engines need to be honest. Google 'diddoed' the others.