I was listening to Kjell Nordstrom (author of Karaoke Capitalism: Managing for Mankind ) a couple of days ago. One of the most interesting things he said (kind of obvious once you are exposed to the idea) was that there are two kind of companies that survive in each industry: - the fittest, the one that does what is supposed to do in the most efficient and cost-effective way. He named Ryanair as a good example. - the sexiest, the one that people just love because of its appeal. It may be more expensive or not as efficient as competitors (like a BMW or a Gucci or even an iPod) but consumers are in love with the product -they just have to have it.
So... When it comes to search engines, I have the feeling that they all try to be the fittest. Most users agree that Google is ahead of all others in this field. Google search does one job and does it extremely well -no whistles and bells. But it's not sexy. (Some may say that it used to be, when their approach was so different from the others and they were surrounded by this "underground-ish" hype. But they are as mainstream as it gets now).
Here is an example of what I mean. Take Yahoo. They have this Yahoo! 360 thing. They try to sell it as the Web2.0 killer app. Users do not care about Web 1,2 or 3. But they would probably love to see search results mashed up with celebrities' bookmarks (Madonna's, or Steven Jobs' or Linus Torvalds's). This would be a sexy feature!