Search sites itch for a niche

Yahoo and Google up the ante in search, offering new search tricks for Web surfers, with the ongoing goal of becoming indispensable.

Stefanie Olsen
Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
2 min read
Yahoo and Google are offering new search tricks for Web surfers, with the ongoing goal of becoming indispensable.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo on Friday started offering visitors the ability to search for flight information directly from the search box, matching a similarly new capability from rival Google's search engine. Google, in turn, embedded a technology shortcut for visitors to find information on domain names and their owners, helping people circumvent the WhoIs database of domain names.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google also started displaying shopping-related listings from Froogle.com, its e-commerce reference site, at the top of general search results when it associates a query term as commercial. That development signals the growing importance of shopping search to visitors and, likely, to Google's future.

Other new features from Google include dictionary search and a tool for locating packages in the shipping cycle from Federal Express and United Parcel Service.

The latest search shortcuts join a parade of technology advancements in Web navigation. Search providers are increasingly trying to deliver a wealth of information onto results pages quickly, rather than having people sift through numerous Web sites to find answers. The more successfully they can do this, the greater the likelihood that people will return and develop a loyalty to that provider.

Examples of innovation include tools to retrieve weather, travel, package tracking and math equations on the page of search results. Google, for example, has introduced search features for math equations; news alerts; and the Google Deskbar, which lets people search for movie reviews and stock data from their desktop without using a browser. Yahoo lets people call up listings for Yellow Pages, weather and maps directly from the search bar with corresponding commands.

But the challenge for Yahoo and Google is educating Web searchers on their advancements.

Search shortcuts typically work by typing a simple command before the query term into the search box. Google's WhoIs shortcut requires the term "whois" and then a domain name, such as "Google.com," to call up whether the address has been registered, or the owners' name and contact information. It draws the information from the Global WhoIs database.

Yahoo's flight shortcut simply calls for the airline name and the flight number to access its status. For example, typing in "AA (for American Airlines) 44," calls up the latest landing time or in-flight status.

Yahoo's flight tool draws on data from Sabre-owned Travelocity, its travel partner. Company spokeswoman Diana Lee said that it was created with Yahoo's own technology. "This shows a great way that we have integrated our assets from the network."

Google did not respond to calls for comment.