TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Google Evolves Into All Purpose

Google Evolves Into All Purpose

Michael Liedtke (
Tue, 21 Mar 2006 22:12:53 -0600

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer

The finance section Google Inc. unveiled Tuesday continues a
philosophical shift that's turning its once-pure Internet search
engine into an all-purpose Web site that seems increasingly interested
in getting people to stick around instead of sending them elsewhere.

The evolution has been unfolding during the past four years as Google
has introduced free e-mail, news, photo sharing, instant messaging,
shopping and mapping services that are staples of one-stop Web sites
commonly known as "portals."

The changes have sparked a debate about whether Google is moving
wisely to counteract its biggest rivals -- longtime Web portals like
Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN -- or overextending itself in a
way that ultimately will diminish the appeal of its Internet-leading
search engine.

"There have been concerns that Google is doing just about everything
these days but focusing on search," said Danny Sullivan, editor of
Search Engine Watch, a closely watched industry newsletter.

Although Google dislikes being described as a portal, Sullivan and
industry analysts said its new finance section leaves little doubt
where the company is headed.

"They are being fairly careful about it, but they are walking very
rapidly toward becoming a portal," said Forrester Research analyst
Charlene Li. "They have a lot of other services gunning for them, so
they have become most keen about building user loyalty so the users
don't have a reason to go someplace else."

By keeping visitors on its site longer, Google gets more chances to
serve up the ads that account for virtually all of its profits,
although for now, at least, Google doesn't plan to show ads on its
finance section.

Finance emerged as one of Yahoo's first specialty sections when the
Sunnyvale-based company decided to diversify beyond Internet search
and began packaging content on its own Web site.

Yahoo's finance section, introduced a decade ago, has turned into one
of the company's most powerful traffic magnets. The 31.4 million
people who came to Yahoo Finance last month spent an average of 54
minutes per visit on the site, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Google spokeswoman Sonya Boralv said the company remains committed to
guiding its visitors to other Web sites with useful information. "Our
motivation isn't to provide sticky services," she said.

Unlike Yahoo, Google isn't hiring any writers to produce articles for
its finance section, which will provide links to stories by a variety
of media. But Google's site will include extensive analytical tools,
including interactive charts, that seem likely to keep people on its
site for longer periods.

When Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded the company
in 1998, they pledged to focus obsessively on Web search and avoid the
temptation to diversify into other areas that might distract them.

"Google does not do horoscopes, financial advice or chat," Google once

The corporate philosophy section of Google's Web site continues to
declare: "It's best to do one thing really, really well."

But that same page now includes a footnote to reflect the company's
mind-set has changed during the past four years.

"Over time we've expanded our view of the range of services we can
offer ... and products that then seemed unlikely are now key aspects
of our portfolio," Google said. "This doesn't mean we've changed our
core mission; just that the farther we travel toward achieving it, the
more those blurry objects on the horizon come into sharper focus (to
be replaced, of course, by more blurry objects)."

Google executives say the company devotes 70 percent of its time on
Internet search, 20 percent on peripheral products like the finance
section and e-mail and 10 percent on experiments like its recent
proposal to build a high-speed Internet service in San Francisco.

Now that Google has launched a finance section, Gartner Inc. analyst
Allen Weiner believes the company is more likely to add financial
planning and personal banking software to compete with
Microsoft. Google's Boralv said the company expects to add more
features to the finance section, but said nothing is immediately

Weiner also suspects it won't be long before Google offers a specialty
section devoted exclusively to sports, just like Yahoo and MSN already

Google's expansion already has caused some people to draw cautionary
comparisons to AltaVista, a pioneering Web search engine that set out
to build a more diversified portal in the 1990s.

The expansion alienated AltaVista's once-loyal users as its search
results deteriorated, creating an opportunity for upstarts like
Google. AltaVista eventually was sold and its technology now part of
Yahoo's effort to overtake Google in search.

"You wouldn't think it would be possible for Google to repeat the same
mistakes" as AltaVista, Sullivan said. "You would think Google would
remember that one of the reasons it exists is because of the dumb
things other people once did."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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