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October 13, 2010

Google's Marissa Mayer Promotion Signals Future of Search

With news breaking yesterday that Google vice president of search products, Marissa Mayer, was taking a new role at the company, focused on location and local services, debate has festered far and wide about what the move means for the company's direction, for her specifically, and, laughably, in some isolated cases, if it was in response to perceived failures in her current role relative to competitive moves from Microsoft's Bing. Without being a fly on the wall or being in the offices where these sorts of things are decided, all one needs to know is that Google hasn't earned its leading reputation by sitting still. Mayer, well respected by practically all who see her in action, is one of the company's leading talents, and is being pushed to what's next, not the battles that have already been decided.

Search is a mature market, and Google, for the better part of a decade, has been doing it better than anybody else. The company has leveraged its leading search position to also become a phenomenal business leader, driving billions of dollars of advertising through its pipes every month.

While others, like Search Engine Land, do a great job of watching the month to month market share jockeying between Google, Bing, Yahoo! and assorted others, displaying Google's share of the pie at around two-thirds of the total, the numbers don't look to be dramatically changing any time soon, even with new innovations each brand is rolling out.

About a month ago, I wrote a post titled "The Future of Search: Personal, Persistent and Implicit". While much of what Google does today with search is focused on one-time explicit searches, the market is moving toward persistent implicit searches, which can tap into your own preferences as an individual, including your purchasing behaviors, your reading preferences, your location, hobbies or business.

It is this determination of who you are and what you like that is driving Facebook's focus on their "Like feature", and this morning's announcement with Bing for social search. It is why Foursquare is such a hot commodity, able to turn down a reported $100 million offer from Yahoo! in deference to going it alone. And this is what Marissa is reportedly going to be doing.

Many armchair quarterbacks are looking at Google and seeing an older, more mature, company that struggles to acquire or retain talent in contrast to market upstarts like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. Key to that challenge of keeping the best talent? Keeping them focused on interesting products and quests - the type of quest like what Marissa sees before her, grappling with the different properties within Google that touch location and local and making something impressive, preparing the company for a future where the world of search will look incredibly different indeed.

For savvy press release readers, one does not see any negativity in Marissa's news, and to bring up words of demotion or competitive pressures are ridiculous. At the same time, she joined the company's operating committee, which is essentially as high as you can go without being on the board of directors. Meanwhile, Marissa has enough money to walk away if she ever wanted, and just about any company under the sun would be delighted to have her. So think again when you see nonsense about this being a push down the stairs in Mountain View. This is a strategic move, one that shows they aren't going to be sitting on their laurels at a time when others are making headlines.

We are beginning the third wave of the Internet. Google won the first wave - of information and retrieval. I will be writing a lot more on this soon. Promise. But keep your eyes on Marissa. I don't expect any Dodgeball level mistakes to come this time.