In the search world we have options. Well, a few options, anyway. The United States, China, and a few other countries around the world still offer some options for accessing the world's information. Arguably, in prominent European economies like Germany and France, Google holds a monopoly.
I've noticed something decidedly lacking in all the Yahoocrosoft merger discussions. While battles over search territory are being waged around the world, discussions of data ownership and third-party unbiased management seem to get swept into quicksand.
While bias and privacy discussions may be lost on advertisers, they shouldn't be lost on the searching, consuming public or – perhaps, more importantly – the advertisers these tools target.
Last week, Yahoo bought IndexTools, a robust, white label (-able) platform that allows an advertiser to manage search engine advertising and gain a larger understanding of the consuming public's behavior on Web sites.
No doubt, this was a move to counter or compete with Google's ownership of Web analytics (Urchin, through acquisition) and optimizing tools. Of course, the argument for having all of these tools in one place (aside from the publisher data collection benefits) lies in the Darwinian search listing selection methodology.
The notion that searchers, not the engines selling listings, choose which ads appear by clicking on queries doesn't negate the concept or need for neutral third parties. The main difference between who uses big tools and "all in one" marketing hobby kits lies in the intended audience.
Speaking of Pieces
Most of the tools offered by search sites aren't targeted to experts or large advertisers who have a great deal of experience working in the online advertising world. The smart move for search sites and publishers was targeting small to medium advertisers (SMEs).
Together, smaller, more local advertisers have been heralded as the next great opportunity for online advertising. "If I can only get Joe's Downtown Plumbing and that way-cool little boutique soap shop buying search ads, the big money will start to roll in."
Remember the early days of search advertising? The bulk of listings came from SMEs. Those early adopters were none too pleased when big advertisers suddenly discovered search.
Providing free tools to small and medium enterprise are certainly encouraging the use of online advertising for SMEs and helping to level the playing field. Yet the same reason these advertisers use the tools should be a word of caution for them as well: they simply don't know any better.
The Next in Text
Once, the question was: can we, or should we get the data? Before a resolution could be found, we had the data and companies began shelling out billions to get it. Microsoft bought aQuantive, Google bought DoubleClick, and we were off to the races.
Privacy and data ownership were big in the early parts of merger discussions, but the conversation died when regulators couldn't reconcile the discussions that were required with discussion that should occur. That is to say, discussions about what data was being collected, and by whom, couldn't occur until after the merger had been completed.
Now what? Search engines now own ways of combining data from ad units and site visits along with the means to deliver ads to consumers. As Google sold off its piece of the search bid management space, Yahoo and Microsoft have yet to take a similar approach and they're much less likely to get the same pressure from marketing gurus everywhere.
These search engines say they want to altruistically educate the unwashed masses and grow the online advertising world – thereby funding the next generation of technical platforms. At the end of the day, owners of the "one stop" toolkits should be taking the same care to actually educate while filling their coffers.
Fat chance I know, but a man can dream, can't he?