'Tis the season when everyone and their mother makes industry predictions for the coming year. Well, except my mother, that is... the only thing she's trying to guess is when my twins will be born!
Most of the lists I've seen so far have been pretty safe -- and prognosticators will pat themselves on their backs for 50% accuracy.
I'm going to go out on some limbs here and make some crazy predictions to stir the pot a little bit. If I get any one of these right (sans #10) I'll expect some serious back-patting.
1. Facebook will create its own search engine. With social networks being the first place people turn to make commercial decisions these days (like what camera to buy, what movie to see, where to eat) there's too much at stake for Facebook not to own the experience -- not to mention, the monetization. Sorry, Bing!
2. Apple will create its own search engine. More and more searching is done on the go -- and Apple has more and more screens designed to be nearby when inspiration hits. And, more and more searchers are looking for decisions these days, not links. (Hey, maybe those Bing ads are working after all!) Apps are well-positioned to replace search engines when it comes to form and function. They can learn your personal preferences and tap APIs to return recommended transactions or itineraries, not just Web links. Virtual personal assistants? Apple has an app for that.
3. Groupon will create its own search engine. Who needs Google? These days, people search not just to find local businesses but to find local deals. And who's got all the deals? That would be the other Big G. As Groupon expands into more countries and goes beyond "deal a day," it only makes sense to create an elegant way for people to query all the deals in its system. The same way it's become an online shopping best practice to search for a promo code prior to checkout, it's becoming an offline shopping best practice to wait for a merchant to run a Groupon. But the time to wait is over. It's now time to search and find!
4. EBay will create its own search engine. Another way to improve the local shopping experience is to make it easier for people to find out what inventory is available at brick and mortar locations. This certainly seems like a search problem. And it looks like eBay will be the one to solve it. EBay does about 700 million product searches each month in the U.S., per comScore. Granted, most of these are for items for sale on eBay -- but that will change with the acquisition of Milo.
5. Google will fall below 60% U.S. search query market share. If any of the aforementioned companies build their own search engines, they'll likely steal share from Google. And, even if they don't, Bing will continue to grow inch by inch (although mostly at the expense of Yahoo) while pouring millions into traditional advertising. With Google focusing on non-core-search products like Android and losing top talent to the companies listed above, it's possible the core search rankings will be altered by the end of next year.
6. Google will buy TiVo. What, G Worry?? Even if its search share shrinks a bit, the total search pie is growing, and Google is monetizing better than anyone. The search ad cash cow will continue to fund endeavors beyond search, and the latest infatuation in Mountain View seems to be with TV -- you know, that screen that actually shows professional video content advertisers want to be associated with. Google TV is designed to attract the brand ad dollars that have eluded Google on the Web. Unfortunately, though, the Google TV OS seems to be a bust, as does the syndication plans. Thankfully, TiVo's already figured all that out -- and its market cap is less than a month's worth of revenue for Google.
7. Microsoft will buy Twitter. Imagine Twitter integration into MS Office products and Xbox. Neat, aye? Tough to monetize, though. Now imagine Bing incorporating yet another social signal of authority and relevance (in addition to Facebook) -- and, more importantly, locking Google out. Somebody pinch Ballmer!
8. Comcast will buy Yahoo. Now that it appears the NBC Universal acquisition will be approved by the FCC (albeit with some conditions), it's time for Comcast to focus on expanding its online footprint. Yahoo would be a great way for Comcast to get better distribution for its video on demand. And having a deeper connection with online activities like email and search (yes, Yahoo still does a bit of the latter) would make Comcast stickier for consumers and more valuable to advertisers. For all the browbeating it's taken, Yahoo is still a fantastic Internet brand and would tie in well to Comcast's cross-media strategy. And need I remind you that Yahoo has more monthly unique users in the U.S. than another online media property per comScore?
9. Adobe will buy AOL. Adobe owns the tools people use to design content (like Creative Suite) and the tools people use to track and measure content (like Omniture). So why not own the places people consume said content? Since Tim Armstrong took the helm at AOL, he's built an impressive portfolio of content destinations. His challenge right now is monetizing them. Methinks with better content, better ads, and better measurement, he'd have a better chance.