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.”

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