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04/06/2006

Real Estate, Cars, Jobs: Watch Out World, Google Base Has Only Begun To Stir

There has been a lot of commentary about Google Real Estate’s beta launch earlier this week.  It turns out that Google also is quietly testing a similar service for cars and jobs as well.  Both the real estate launch and the car launch take data from Google base and integrate it with Google Maps, providing a consumer friendly front end to the database.  (My guess is that the appearance of both services this week probably has something to do with the release of Google Maps’ 2.0 API).

With the launch of these Google Base front-ends, Google is clearly putting into place the major pieces required to support its vertical search platform.  Broadly speaking, such a platform requires 4 major pieces:

  1. A big, highly scalable database that can handle lots of queries.  This, of course, is what Google Base was all about.
  2. Consumer friendly front ends to access these databases.  The auto and real estate front ends are obviously the first of such front ends.
  3. A large, robust, crawling farm.  This is obviously Google’s crown jewel.
  4. A set of intelligent algorithms to find, classify, and flag listings.  We have yet to see this from Google.

Most people remain unimpressed by Google Base because it doesn’t seem to contain a lot data.  That’s because what you are seeing is a work in progress that is being purposely hobbled to reduce load during the testing phase.   Google has now built beta versions of pieces #1 and #2.  We will un doubtedly soon see pieces #3 and #4.  Only when those pieces are in place will Google Base fulfill its potential.

In terms of piece #3, Google likely has to make changes and updates to its core crawler code in order to accomplish this.  This is a non-trivial task and not something undertaken lightly.  Piece #4 requires a decent number of Google’s PhD’s to build and test algorithms for recognizing listings within unstructured data and then structuring it, also a non-trivial task.  However, as someone who watched Google hire some of the brightest minds in unstructured data management I can tell you that have more than enough firepower to accomplish the mission.

Once Google, hooks up pieces #3 and #4 (likely at the same time) a flood of information will cascade into Google Base and from there into the fronts that they recently launched.  If you want to view a good approximation of what Google Base will look like once it is finished, go look at Vast.com

Losers and Bigger Losers
There will be two sets of losers in all of this.  The first and most immediate set of losers will be the start-up vertical search players (indeed one can only imagine the long faces at Trulia (and their VC backers) when they got their first look at Google Real Estate).  Of course losers may not be an accurate term as the correct response to Google Base from these companies should be to pick up the phone and call Yahoo, Microsoft, IAC, and AOL and say “you guys need to buy us because Google is going to clean your clock” and who knows some of the big boys might just hit the panic button and write a few big checks.

The problem for these vertical search players is that Google has set a very high bar by integrating its vertical search seamlessly into it’s free text query engine, crawler farm, and data base.  If a Yahoo or Microsoft, were to buy several different vertical search start-ups to respond to Google Base (and they must respond one way or the other) they would inherit a huge integration headache and be faced with a massive back-end restructuring.  Faced with this headache, some of them may well decide to follow in Google’s footsteps and built it from scratch. Alternatively, they may prefer to acquire a more “horizontal” vertical search play, such as Vast, which has already built a multi-vertical crawl and classify engine.  Either way, if I were running a vertical search engine I would be putting a sign on my front door right about now reading “No reasonable offers refused”.

The second set of losers in this are the well established listings-focused Walled Gardens of the Internet.  As I have outlined before in detail, these Walled Galled face a fundamental threat from search.  A fully functioning Google Base will make that threat more real than ever.

I don’t know when pieces #3 and #4 will be launched, but for me that will be the single most interesting day in the short life of Google Base and far more deserving of hoopla than the launch of a few simple front ends.

April 6, 2006 in Internet | Permalink

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