Tom Evslin, whose blog I’ve recently been reading and enjoying, is is skeptical of Jupiter’s bullishness on vertical search engines. Tom argues that Metcalfe’s law and the capabilities of horizonatally focused search engines will trump vertical search engines in terms of providing value to advertisers and users. He takes issue with Jupiter’s analogy to TV channels and goes on to say that TV will become more like the Web, and not the other way around.
I agree with this, but I don’t agree with Tom that there is no place for vertically focused search engines. I believe that, from an end user’s standpoint, there is a need for search engines to be tuned for special types of searches that horizontal/broad engines haven’t got the trick of. Case in point: Orbitz and its other travel site brethren are glorified search engines tuned for travel. Going a level up, like Sidestep, one can search multiple engines in the travel vertical. While going a level down, these sites have vertical categories for you to search for hotel rooms, vacations or car rentals. I go to these sites for my travel needs, not Google. I go to Amazon for books and music, Rotten Tomatoes for movie info, etc, etc. Why? Often times I will be in search mode, but I value the browse and recommendation modalities that they offer.
Now Google could certainly provide results for travel related searches just like they do with product-related searches on Froogle but I dunno…I’ve never really used Froogle all that much. Besides, Google is effectively verticalizing search by having different tabs for Images, Groups, News, Maps, et al. Each of these are particularly tuned for that particular vertical. You can argue that Groups, Images and Maps are horizontal, but they are effectively vertical in that each is tuned for a different type of search. Yes they could unify them all into one, but that would add complexity for the user in that they’d have to learn the syntax for the type of search their doing, which would be harder than simply going to a trusted brand like Amazon.