An ad for Microsoft’s Bing search engine came on TV last night. The message, obviously, is that Bing is better than Google:
Bill Gates penned The Road Ahead as a vision of where online communications would head in the next 10-15 years. And he wrote it in 1995 – in fact, when it was released as an audiobook you could actually get it on cassette.
Some of Gates’s predictions, which sounded far-fetched a decade and a half ago, have come to fruition. Shopping online, for instance, is now accepted as a secure and dependable way to do business. Services like Yelp make it easy to check out what others think of restaurants. Movies and video entertainment are available on-demand, and the TV screen is becoming indistinguishable from the computer screen.
This came to mind today not only because I recently re-read the book, but also because Wired reports that one of Gates’s predictions is coming closer to fruition: a personal device Gates calls the “wallet PC.”
Gates’s concept of the “wallet PC” is a truly personal computer, but goes beyond most smartphones – essentially, a credit card, phone, netbook, driver’s license, and GPS all rolled into one. Services like PayPal and Square, combined with increasingly sophisticated phones and, perhaps most importantly, faster wireless connections, make shopping in the real world look more and more like shopping online – literally exchanging money by pointing and clicking.
One piece of irony of The Road Ahead is that Microsoft was not the driver for the realization of many of Gates’s predictions – and in fact, many Microsoft competitors made advancements that he foresaw. Apple’s iPhone paved the way for “wallet PCs”; Gates’s often-stated idea that information would become the currency of the 21st century is today embodied by Google’s mission. That these developments were made by others doesn’t make Gates any less visionary.
On the heels of the Associated Press floating the idea of charging search engines for its bulldog edition content comes the news that Twitter is in talks with both Microsoft and Google to include tweets in their search results. This may be a business model that actually works.
Search engines are, by nature, aggregators of content and serve as the doorway to the internet. With two search engines competing for market share, that means each must be on the top of their game. For sites like Twitter, that means their large user base (which generates relevant, in-demand content) is pretty valuable to someone conducting a search query.
These deals would also be the first answers the question of how Twitter will actually monetize that content. This arrangement would allow Twitter users to take advantage of a still-free service and actually help them attract traffic; it would mean a stream of revenue for Twitter that doesn’t involve someone saying, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, so I’ll write a check until you figure out how it makes money”; and it gives Microsoft and Google a way to provide better search results to increase their market share (which attracts advertisers.
It’s a good model, and like the AP’s plan, it takes advantage of the fact that, for the first time in a while, there is legitimate competition among search engines. This doesn’t work on an internet where one search engine is clearly dominant. And even though Google is the clear leader in search engine market share right now, Microsoft has the resources to stay in the game for a long time.