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Browsing will soon be lot easier
Nilanjana S Roy | November 05, 2005
Back when Gmail started in beta, there was a scramble for invites. You had to be invited either directly by Google, or through some one who already had a Gmail invite.
The begging emails poured in: Can I have a Gmail invite if I walk your dog, pick up your laundry, do deeply illegal things to you on the welcome mat?
Today, you can't give the damn things away - there are over a hundred useless invites piled up in my inbox, but no one wants them.
Was Google's product launch for Gmail too successful, or not successful enough?
Neither. Gmail got it right when it came to creating the initial buzz. Without that frantic demand for invites, it wouldn't have had a hope of taking on Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail.
Launching email services in an age of Hotmail, AOL and Yahoo! Mail is a bit like trying to launch a great new cold drink in markets ruled by Coke and Pepsi.
What was significant about Gmail wasn't that it was a decent email service, nor even that it was a successful product launch.
For a growing segment of Net users, Gmail alerted us to the fact that Google Labs was now a regular stop on the browsing trail.
Google Labs is a vast, open laboratory of projects that Google's employees are working on and that the public is free to testdrive. It's not a new concept: this is just beta testing taken to a mass audience.
But in the year since Gmail was launched, Google Labs has successfully tested and released Google Earth, Google Scholar, Google Maps, Google Desktops and several other neat little web concepts.
The Labs have become the place to go to if you're wondering what Google's future plans for world domination are.
Google isn't alone in its attempt to conquer the hearts, minds and browsers of the globe; MSN and Yahoo! have been jostling the erstwhile search engine company for a while now.
This year, MSN launched its Sandbox, a version of Google Labs; Yahoo! now has Yahoo! Next. It would be naïve to believe that these three companies will give away all their secrets.
But there's enough up there to give you a sense of where the Big Three are headed.
Google Print is still controversial; the attempt to create a worldwide searchable library has been imitated by Yahoo!, but copyright challenges are inevitable.
Google is looking at blogs seriously; its Blog Search is one of the better dedicated blog engines around, and its new Reader, which allows you to read multiple blog "feeds" on one page, could be a killer app.
Google Video is still clunky, but the idea that you should be able to search TV and video clips with as much ease as audio databases is bound to be copied.
MSN Filter tries cleverly to combine a whole host of search functions, by using bloggers as human filters for the web - it's erratic, but a nice concept.
NetScan aims to do for Usenet groups what a good blog search engine does for blogs, and Start is an attempt to do what all three companies are doing - build the ultimate interactive, personalised home page.
Yahoo! has five different ways to search the web, from the quirky 'Mindset' to the cluster-search engine Web 2.0, on the anvil - like the other two, Yahoo! knows that search engines must mutate in order to keep up with evolving needs.
But about the most exciting thing it has up on Next is Yahoo! Podcasts search.
Is this beginning to sound familiar? Well, Google and MSN both have huge maps and globe searching facilities now; all three of them are improving audio search and moving towards newer ways of searching the web; and none of them can afford to ignore blogs, video or podcasts any more.
I don't know whether it'll be a Yahoo!, MSN or Google world, but from the user's point of view, it's going to be a lot easier to browse.