An entry by Jeremy Zawondy named The Living Room Battle is about Search? sprung a need for a thread at Search Engine Watch named Is Search a Commodity?. The thread just started, so not much detail there as of yet - in addition there is a poll, but the question got me thinking...
First, it is always good to refresh yourself on the Dictionary Definition of "Commodity":
(1) Something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage: “Left-handed, power-hitting third basemen are a rare commodity in the big leagues” (Steve Guiremand). (2) An article of trade or commerce, especially an agricultural or mining product that can be processed and resold. (3) Advantage; benefit. (4) Obsolete. A quantity of goods.
When I think of commodities, I think bottles of water, notebooks, entry level hosting; anything that there is a huge quantity of and low cost.
In the search business we have Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves. There are many meta search engines and many Web directories but there are really 4 main players. Those players work hard to innovate, improve relevancy and build brand. I do not consider those types of search engines a commodity at all. Personally, I use each search engine differently (well not the current MSN). Since I use them differently and for different types of searches, they are all unique in a sense. Would I compare that to water that has a taste of lemon? No, because there are dozens of companies that sell water with a taste of lemon. There is only one Google, one Yahoo and one Ask Jeeves (Teoma). Of course, MSN will be different when it launches.
At some point, will all search engines reach a peak where they can not go beyond understanding the searcher to improve relevancy? I highly doubt it. Even if they do, I still see different engines appealing differently to different users. Not only because of brand, but because of the actual search results.
Search as a commodity, never.
I just like to note, that Doug Cutting (the old time senior engineer at Excite), in the Search Memories San Jose SES Session said:
Doug started talking about his Nutch [an open source search technology], an open source Google. People find it useful to build and search niche search engines. He said its hard to know where it will go. Its open source, good enough quality and major commercial search engines will use. That is, [Doug] predicated on that search technology is becoming a commodity and is not getting much better.
Steve doesn't like to predict in the future, but if an other Stamford student comes to him, he will listen.
Who am I to disagree, but I do.