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Yahoo Has Google's Mojo: Round Two

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Second sight from The Guardian has gotten a lot of comment I've seen for being the second piece in as many weeks to suggest Yahoo's walking all over Google. On Yahoo's Mojo & The Tiresome Need For Perspective is my dissection of Om Malik's earlier "Yahoo whomps Google" argument that left me less than convinced. The Guardian piece needs some reality checking, as well.

This spring has been very strange. Google, it seems, has jumped the shark. It has been overtaken, left standing, and not by some new startup of ultra smart MIT alumni or by the gazillions in the Microsoft development budget, but by the deeply unhip and previously discounted Yahoo.

I've said to umpteen million mainsteam reporters over the past two years that Yahoo was a major contender in the search space, more powerful than MSN itself. I wasn't the only one saying this, though I think those of us holding these views were largely drowned out by shouting that it would be a Microsoft vs. Netscape repeat. Heck, even Microsoft said way back in 2003 that Yahoo was a serious competitor:

"We view it as a three horse race between ourselves, Yahoo and Google, with Google in the lead," said Lisa Gurry, a group product manager with MSN who's working with the search team.

So no one should have been discounting Yahoo -- especially The Guardian. Back in October 2003, my Surprised Google & Microsoft Talked Takeover? You Shouldn't Be! article commented on another Guardian article, Google fights for top spot. In that article, far from discounting Yahoo, The Guardian saw Google likely struggling against it and Microsoft.

OK, it was a different author at The Guardian writing that piece. Still, we've got the same publication telling us that between October 2003 and April 2005 -- just over a year-and-a-half -- Google's managed to go from underdog to superpowerful back to "jumping the shark" as some type of loser? Please. Where on earth is the perspective here?

What's the proof of Google's failures? One big point is that Yahoo has a better showcase area launched "last month," The Guardian tells us.

Actually, Yahoo Labs rolled out in 2003 in the form of Overture Labs (a year after Google Labs). Overture Labs was rebranded Yahoo Research Labs in early 2004. Then we also got Yahoo Next launched at the end of 2004. So Yahoo Labs, however you want to slice it, is hardly brand new.

OK, but Yahoo Labs is better than Google Labs. It is? Why? I don't know if it is or isn't. I haven't tried to rank them side-by-side nor do some type of consumer survey, to understand how this is making Yahoo the popular choice these days.

Maybe it's better. What's The Guardian's proof? It seems to be based this solely on the fact that Yahoo publishes its research papers on the site (the home page oddly lists The Guardian's own Second sight article as a Yahoo white paper):

Unlike Google, Yahoo publishes its papers, names its researchers and says what it is up to. One-nil to Yahoo.

Google actually does have a page about papers it has published: Papers written by Googlers, though practically everything seems from 2002 and before. If not publishing is a major losing point with searchers -- something I doubt -- it's a pretty easy problem to solve.

Yahoo gets a second big point for rolling out recently a search API that's said to be better than Google long-standing ones. OK, I'll trust The Guardian on this. Let's say Yahoo's one-month old API is cooler. That's another thing easily corrected, if it is indeed an actual problem for Google.

In products, we're told that Yahoo adding traffic conditions to its maps "this month" (it happened in December) trumps Google's new drag-and-view map system. Actually, I like both features -- and what I'd expect is that both Yahoo and Google will make up for the shortcomings in each place by copying each other.

There's a quick hit of a few other items where Yahoo is said to be winning. In reality, no hard proof of a win or loss is offered. Yahoo wins for its Creative Commons search engine? Why doesn't Google win for Google Scholar? Picasa isn't as good as Flickr? Not if you actually want to edit your photos. You want to do that -- you might end up using Picasa and Flickr both.

In conclusion, Yahoo's not just back in the game -- it's always been in the game. It's just finally getting more recognition that's well deserved, plus it is winning some battles. But Google is hardly losing nor down and out.

Odd to say, I know, after we made Yahoo the winner in our recent Search Engine Watch awards. But our readers in massive numbers went for Google. That's not something that's happening to a "loser" search engine (and a reason why next year we might do both people's choice and editor's choice awards).

Some additional reading:

Microsoft's supremacy as a company has caused it to be widely loathed. Does search dominance by Google mean that the company is destined to face general hatred, as well? Such a fate is not preordained, as we shall see. But first, let's review just a few examples of how people have viewed Google as all powerful.

Postscript:Yahoo! Sharpens Its Tech Edge from The Street takes a more balanced look at how Yahoo never really lost its groove but that instead, new initiatives are being better recognized, especially as it buys into areas with lots of buzz such as RSS and social networking.


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