Death by a thousand verticals

There has been a Cambrian-like explosion of vertical search sites popping up over the past five years to fill the gaps that general purpose search engines like google and yahoo have not been able to fill. By specializing in a specific vertical e.g Yelp (for reviews), Kayak (for travel), Nextag (for shopping), these sites have been able to gather large audiences over the past five years, thanks in large part to the free distribution through natural search that google et all send to them.

Example: Compare a search on google for the term ‘san francisco chinese restaurants’. Now try the same thing on yelp.

It goes without saying that the result provided by yelp is better on many levels. This is simply a matter of focus. Google clearly knows that it can’t possibly server a result to satisfy every different type of user query, so this leaves room for other sites to specialize their efforts around a particular niche. Since not every search problem is created equally, these sites have been able to focus on building domain-specific functionality and filters to solve the unique search problems in their domains. This poses an increasing threat to the core businesses of google et all as these sites gain in popularity and start becoming the place where people start their searches.
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Is Google re-inventing the model of the Corporation?

The Old Paradigm: Rely on quasi-monopoly and second-rate legacy products to squeeze users starved of choice for every last penny (*cough* Microsoft, *cough* *cough*).

microsuck

The New Paradigm: Put end-users first and profits will follow. (Google).

google-halo

Much can be said about the corporate cultures (particularly Google’s) which have in part enabled this brand of user-centric thinking, but that is a topic for another discussion.

Time and time again Google has put the best interests of their users AHEAD of their own share-holders and short-term bottom line.  This isn’t to say that they are profit agnostic in the slightest, they happen to make very healthy profits, rather they believe that doing right by their customers will earn them more loyalty (read: money) in the long run.

To phrase it another way: Google is not successful in-spite of putting users interests first, to the contrary, they are successful BECAUSE they put users’ interests first.
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