Friday, October 6, 2006

A9 and Google

I've been trying other search engines lately.

'Other' is an interesting word, isn't it?  As if there is such a strong expectation that I'd use Google that I need to make a point of using anything else.  Not that I'm completely happy with the Google search experience.

As it turns out, though, Google seems to meet my needs better than does A9, and the reason why appears to be a real-world example of the Innovator's Dilemma.

Both Google and A9 use ads to pay the bills.  Google has sponsored links that follow the model of the competitive coupons that you get at the supermarket  checkout - the till sees what you're buying, and prints coupons for competing brands. Google sees what you're searching, and companies have bought presentment in response to specific keywords and combinations.  I just searched in google for "water heaters" and got a handful of sponsored links from companies that sell water heaters, such as sears, findaplumber, that sort of thing. It is a short list, small font, occupying a small portion of the page. I read a fair number of the ads, and frequently click of a few.

Over at A9, the same query "water heaters" results in two columns of output, one is a series of web links such as that from Google, and the other is a list of books and publications you can buy about water heaters, conveniently linked to the purchase page at Amazon (who, of course, own A9). And that column of sponsored links is very large, occupying a pile of screen real estate.

Now with a general query like "water heaters", which sponsored link do you imagine I'd more likely want to look at?
  1. "The World Market for Instantaneous Gas Water Heaters: A 2004 Global Trade Perspective (Spiral-bound)"  $795.00 at
  2. a page of tankless water heaters for sale at Ira Wood and Sons ?
What I don't know here is whether most queries at Google or A9 are by folks looking to buy, or to learn (and willing to pay for the book). But I imagine buy. That's why I frequently click on a few of those links - because
I am looking for a vendor who sells what I was searching for.

This seems a good example of the innovator's dilemma, which talks about companies with an entrenched business and customer base being unable or unwilling to brings new products to market to serve different customers. In this case, Amazon is so focused on books and book buyers that of course the sponsored links are to books they sell. Even if that makes little or no sense for the query.

There may well be a place for both search engines, if I am willing to tune my own behaviour. When I search, sometimes I am looking to buy, sometimes I am looking to learn. If I can remember to change search engines I may optimize my results in any instance. But that is a fair amount of work. And if I search from the address bar (which I don't, but I think others do), that won't happen.

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