HOME Technology Nov 2009
Networkers geared to share
Search for loyalty escalates

There’s been huge action around social networking in the past five years, while search engines, email and browsers, the staple diet of the Internet, have remained relatively unchanged.

Millions have shared everything from photographs and videos to private thoughts, and now developers are gearing for the next wave of the grand social experiment by helping users consolidate and simplify their activities on the worldwide web.

The big rivals Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace and others are now ramping up their efforts to own the most interesting realestate in cyberspace and the loyalty of their tenants. New browsers, search engines and tools are geared to attract more customers to the next big thing with one-stop shops where they can manage all their online efforts.

Facebook, the top social networking site locally and internationally, wants to be at the centre of 300 million subscriber’s digital lives, and their jump off point to the rest of the web. It recently purchased real-time feed aggregator FriendFeed and added search capabilities to help firm up its lead over rivals like MySpace and Twitter.

On the browser front Google has polished up its new Chrome Windows browser which it launched in mid-September as part of a wider set of tools including Gmail, Google Earth and Google Maps.

New to the suite is Google Wave, which combines elements of email, instant messaging, social networking and web chat with real-time collaborative document creation. Its developers reckon Google Wave, which goes lives next year, is what email would look like if it was invented today.

Google’s main rival Yahoo is also sprucing up its game, revamping its Yahoo Messenger and mail programmes and adding new functions to its search engine, having signed a 10-year deal to use Microsft’s Bing back-end search technology. That’s something of a turnaround as Microsoft previously spent 18 months trying to acquire Yahoo outright.

Yahoo plans to spend more than $US100 million over the next 13 months promoting its strategy as a central hub for people to organise and manage their online experience.

Microsoft quotes a comScore study of the main search engines, revealing that up to 30 percent of Internet searches are abandoned without a satisfactory result with two thirds of those needing to be redefined. Bing’s new Decision Engine will help people navigate more intuitively toward informed decisions.

Browsing redefined

The browser market is also getting a makeover as competition heats up. Worldwide Microsoft’s Internet Explorer — now into version 8 — has around 67 percent market share, with Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera making up the balance.

Locally however Nielson’s SiteCensus suggests Firefox, created by European non-profit group Mozilla, is gaining serious traction, having won a 20 percent market share with Microsoft’s 60 percent hold slipping 12 percent from 2006.

Google’s Chrome grew steadily to July, having picked up 3.2 percent of Kiwi surfers, or around 100,000 people. Apple’s Safari has around 5 percent while Netscape, owned by AOL, declined to 13.5 percent from being top of the pile in the early days of the web.

Meanwhile those concerned at the impact of all this Internet business might be encouraged to note that surfing the web even for short periods is apparently good for the brain,. A team of scientists at the University of California reports that Internet use improves decision making and complex reasoning ability, particularly in the 55-78 age group.

Researchers say Internet use stimulates neural activity and possibly enhances cognitive functioning, even for new users and after only a week online. Even searching the web amounts to a simple exercise that triggers key centres in the brain that often atrophy with age or lack of use.

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