The Week’s Agenda: The Most Essential Site

All the talk these days is of domination.

AOL’s 29 million customers make it the dominant Internet company. Microsoft’s XP operating system is a return to its dominating ways. Then there’s the dominating presence of Chapters 11 and 7 in the lives of so many of us.

But there’s another, more important word than “domination,” which implies a lack of choice and displeasure at the prospect. That word is essential.

Is there one Web site so essential that your life would become really difficult if it disappeared?

There is for me, and I think the answer is the same for you.

That site is Google.

Google, launched in 1998, is the cleanest, simplest, and fastest search site yet created. The company, which remains privately held, insists this purity will pay off in a profit by the third quarter of this year.

It’s Google’s capabilities that make it essential. Google has a better directory tree than dmoz or even Yahoo Its detailed search capabilities are far superior. I can still get more timely searches of current news from News.Com, and I require AltaVista to find images, but Google can suffice for everything else.

If your first language isn’t English, Google can get you results in any of 26 languages, including Icelandic.

Small sites can get Google site searches free. The company’s business model is to charge for being the default engine on larger sites, such as that of the Washington Post.

The Google Toolbar offers all sorts of gee-whiz capabilities. It can highlight search terms, show the status of each page you read, and save your most recent searches.

Google’s caching means that when sites die, you can still read them (and perhaps learn what killed them).

Google has extended its reach to Usenet by having bought and by accepting new Usenet posts directly on its site, now called Google Groups.

Parents can filter their children’s’ Google results easily by using the site’s preference page.

Most recently, Google launched a language-translation beta, an idea first advanced by the late, lamented elingo. The translations are far from perfect, but if your search now comes across something from the German or Brazilian Web, you can read it.

Last Thursday, Google went down briefly and I got a taste of what the Web might be like without it. It wasn’t pleasant. I could no longer evaluate, at a glance, the relevance of my search results. I couldn’t instantly get a list of pages similar to the one I was on (click to Lycos, hit the “Similar Pages” button on the Google Toolbar, and get the home pages of all the leading search engines).

The result is big-time credibility. And here’s the pay-off.

Google is getting $15 per thousand for its AdWords, still its only advertising product. AdWords ads aren’t fancy, just a few lines of text and a URL link, but they must be effective — those prices are the envy of many larger sites.

But this column isn’t just a love letter. There’s a lot you can learn from Google.

When you concentrate on old-fashioned virtues such as value and credibility, you can succeed.

When you work at keeping your technology (as well as marketing) costs down, you can succeed.

Most important, when you deliver overwhelming service, you can become essential. And that’s what all our sites most want to be.

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