Search technology has come a long way in 10 years. Google's success has attracted lots of entrepreneurs and VCs, all looking for The Next Big Thing in search. In an earlier post, "Three moves that could topple Google" I explored three areas ripe for innovation.
The innovation breaks down into three different categories; UI enhancements, Technology advancements, and Vertical segmentation.
User Interface (UI) enhancements attempt to improve the user experience and visual representation. Companies working in this area include; Snap, Live.com, and SearchMash. I would add Quintura, which presents search results in a "visual cloud" that clusters results by meaning and intent.
Technology advancements include; Hakia , Powerset , and Mindset , which search based on meaning or intent. Vivisimo and Ask.com present results in clusters that allow you to refine or expand your search. Findory, Jookster , Swicki , Collarity, and Rollyo do personalized or social search that present results based on your personal preferences or circle of friends. There are also a bunch of companies doing "tag" or "voting" based search...companies like Technorati, Digg, TailRank, and others.
Vertical market segment search has lots of players in each category;
I don't see any "Google killers" amongst the current crop of start-ups. The big search engines, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Ask are experimenting with all of these approaches. There will be some small acquisitions along the way but nothing in the YouTube size or scale.
In my opinion there are three big areas of opportunity in search; Mobile search, Local search, and Classified ad search. There is no clear leader in these areas and the market is under-served.
Mobile search on cell phones will be huge! The challenges are UI design for input and retrieval, rendering of results for small screen size, and tagging the index of sites by geography. A voice recognition interface seems logical for mobile search, but the technology is still lacking.
Local Search is basically mashing up the Yellow Pages directory with Maps and business web sites to provide business search for consumer buyers. Sounds simple but there are millions of small businesses, many of them are not listed in the Yellow Pages, some of them don't have web sites, and they move or go out of business often, making the mapping part difficult. There needs to be a new business model and easy self service profiling for businesses to make this work.
Classified Ad Search is currently dominated by Craigslist and eBay who provide a destination site for ads. The thousands of local newspapers also have a big chunk of this business for print based classifieds. We are talking billions of dollars and millions of consumers who place ads. Again, a new business model, a new way to aggregate and classify, and a self service approach will be a big hit and make a ton of money.