Danny Sullivan asks the question of whether search engines becoming portals — in part because they're so furiously competing with each other — implies a potential decline in quality.
Google reportedly announced its "fusion" strategy because users were requesting greater integration of its disparate tools and services.
Journalists continually speculate about "the next Google" and what it might be and how it would arise. Given the changes in the marketplace, I would argue it's unlikely that there will be such a phenomenon again. However, if search results at Yahoo!, Google, AOL, Ask, MSN, etc., become over-monetized or too cluttered, etc. it may create an opportunity for a new player to arise and do something leaner and cleaner.
That was essentially the story of Google.
I would expect any new player that had a compelling technology or sufficient traction in the marketplace to be bought by one of the majors. But just as Google apparently declined a buyout offer from Microsoft at one point, one never knows.
The challenge for the engines is to compete in a markeplace that is kind of like a runaway train, while keeping their eye on the ball — to mix metaphors. What I mean by "the ball" is true consumer utility and advertiser value.
As the feature set gets richer and more involved and the results get more dense — again, driven by competition more than user demand — the engines have got to mask that complexity behind simple, intuitive interfaces that deliver against real-world consumer needs.