RealTime IT News

Google Wears a Bullseye At Web 2.0

SAN FRANCISCO -- The second day of the Web 2.0 Summit featured some of the Internet's heaviest hitters talking strategy, new products and how to compete with search king Google, one of several sponsors of the event.

"There is immense opportunity in the core space that they are in that I'm surprised we haven't branched into," said Microsoft's Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie.

Ozzie mentioned advances in the refinement of search and making it more contextual as areas ripe for innovation.

But he also ticked off many of Microsoft's  advantages, particularly it's enormous user base that includes close to a half a billion Office users. "I don't have to acquire companies, all I have to show is we get it and deliver the value they want to use it."

He also disputed Google's belief espoused yesterday by CEO Eric Schmidt, that most software is moving to an online or hosted model.

"I don't see that it's the right thing to do, to take the PC functionality and put it up on the Web. I think you have to look at what the Web is really good at like sharing scenarios and getting quickly in and out," said Ozzie.

"The PC is really, really flexible, with a fast UI regardless of connection speed." He also said that the PC is a better tool for users to embed emerging data types, including multimedia, that would be limited by bandwidth constraints online.

In an earlier panel, Steve Berkowitz, the Microsoft executive in charge of business development for its online services, said there is plenty of opportunity to compete with Google. That view was echoed by fellow panelist Jim Lanzone, the CEO of Ask.com. (Ironically, Berkowitz is a former CEO of Ask.com).

"So much in search needs to be improved," said Lanzone. He said Ask.com was broadening its appeal by focusing on improvements to specific search areas, such as images, video and maps.

He also claimed Ask.com's singular focus on search and easily understood brand helps it compete against portal sites like Yahoo. "If you're a portal with a 3D this and checkout that, it's a very jumbled thing to say what the brand stands for."

Berkowitz said he expects more graphical user interfaces and personalization will make the search experience better.

"A lot will come down to how you enter the Internet," said Berkowitz. By better understanding its community of users and adding relevant features and links, Berkowitz said Microsoft will be able to keep more of its users from leaving to Google and other sites.

He also conceded Microsoft's new Live online effort "isn't where I want it to be."

He said Microsoft's goal is to make Live a complete online service that can be readily accessed by a wide range of devices from desktop to mobile and provide more than search, but a range of services. "In the future, search will always be central to the property."

That Ning Thing

Social networks like MySpace are a huge trend that got plenty of attention at the Web 2.0 Summit. Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, is also co-founder of a new service called Ning, that adds a lot more customization to the social networks.

Gina Bianchini, the other co-founder of Ning, shared the stage with Andreesen and ran through a quick demo, setting up a social Web application in a few minutes.

"We give you the ability to set up your own video site like YouTube, or a site like Facebook, but unlike a page in someone else's service, it's yours – you decide the appearance and how to customize it," said Bianchini. Video, audio and photos can be imported from your computer or other sites.

You can also decide on whether the sites you create will be public or private.

In December, Ning plans to bring an upgrade online that will integrate access to multimedia types from within Ning rather than having to retrieve them from other sites.

"We think Facebook and YouTube are fantastic, but they are one size fits all," said Andreessen. "It reminds me of AOL and Prodigy in the '90s. It wasn't until we had fragmentation, specialization and customization when the Web gained traction.

Andreessen said Ning is making a big bet that "as people get more used to social networking they want more flexibility. It's a really important step to unlock the creativity people have."