Google is introducing a new music feature, according to Reuters and SEW. When users search for, say, Madonna (the example used at SEW), they'll see some information: a picture and links to a page about Madonna and a link to the alliterative "more music results for Madonna." (Click that link and note the "search music" button.)
My colleagues will read this and wonder, "Why the @#$! is he writing about this?" Well, beyond this being an interesting "content" play and a way for Google to serve more of its users' needs (and get some more ad revenues down the line), the move starts to clarify some things about what might be called Google's "vertical strategy."
In addition to the new music feature, and with the introduction of "tools" such as "Google Travel" (see SFO to JFK) and Google Base, which many are convinced is a surrogate for Google classifieds (it's more complex than that), there is a growing question about how Google will manage and present all this "vertical" information.
As I've argued before, Google is "ambivalent" about verticals — the company wants to push out as much as it can through Google.com results. It created "News," "Local," "Shopping," "Blog Search," "Video" and some other arguable "verticals" because it felt it needed to do so to offer the optimal user experience. But the company doesn't want to keep doing this for every possible content area: Finance, Health, Cars, Jobs, Real Estate and so on.
Google would really start fragmenting its audience, which is a big problem with local generally. So what does it do as it expands its "content" offerings and introduces richer data for each new area?
You get a tease or a set of links on top of the search results page (similar to Local now), and then you'll be taken into a specialized content area. This is how Google will keep users going to Google.com (where most go anyway) and also offer a competitive "vertical" experience (Page 2), where the features and content can be tailored to the specific topic: Cars, Jobs, Real Estate, Movies, Finance, Music, etc.
Google also starts to create very valuable ad inventory on these pages — inventory arguably much more valuable than that on Google.com.
This is, I believe, how Google solves and resolves the problem of maintaining its almost religious devotion to "one box" and Google.com while offering richer/deeper content and specific navigation — a vertical user experience — in particular areas, which it needs to do to maintain market share and, ultimately, deliver more value to marketers over the long term.
Here's Google's official blog statement about the new service.