With online content and information services, I tend to stay fairly loyal to one particular service, occasionally heading to their competitors to give their service a try. Things like search, maps, travel, news, and financial content (as opposed to financial services like my bank or brokerage) fall into this category.
I continue to find that Microsoft and Yahoo just don't get where I believe the battle for customer loyalty is won in this space - the input. Assuming each is "pretty good" at returning content from search, the differentiator comes down to who understands what I am asking?
I just tried to find directions on Live Maps (or whatever it is called) and a) I couldn't figure out even how to get to that functionality and b) Live Local Beta (which is where maps.live.com redirects) couldn't understand my input!
Likewise with Yahoo - every time I try their SMS search, it hiccups and gives me a laundry lists of formats to follow. Contrast that to Google. I type in "weather 98065" and guess what I get? The weather for zip code 98065. I could also type in "98065 weather", "weather for 98065", etc.
Google does the same with Calendar. I was at my son's first soccer practice, I got the soccer schedule, and I opened up my Windows Mobile device (a T-Mobile Wing for anyone who cares), navigated to Google Calendar, and just started typing in games as single-line text entries - "home soccer game 6pm sep 14". And it worked. I didn't need to ask for format, and I didn't have to go through the frustration of retyping on an unfriendly input device like a mobile phone.
What service am I likely to use? One that has rigid entry constraints? One that requires a user manual to use? Not hardly.
I don't know if Google's SMS search results are better than Yahoo's. I never get that far on Yahoo!
What absolutely shocks me is the number of sites that still think in terms of form fields instead of open text. Or the number of sites that can't recognize a phone number in the format "xxx.xxx.xxxx". Wow, 10 years after Google showed us a better way of text input, we are still thinking in Cobol.
I am convinced this is where the battle line for customers is won. And I believe it is the reason for Google's success in the search space. Would love to see the data, though :)