OK, I'll be the first to admit I'm probably out of my league writing about the latest Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) tool being offered for beta testing. Still, Google Scholar shows why Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), as well as the lesser searchlights, have much work to do if they want to make real inroads into Google's dominance of the field.

Google Scholar is a free service that searches peer-reviewed papers, books, abstracts, technical reports, and other scholarly literature. It accesses information from universities, professional societies, and academic publishers, then orders the results based on the relevance to the query and even lists how many times that particularly reference has been cited. Users can then click on the citations for further research. Many of the search hits lead users to sites that require password access. While that means you might not be able to read the entire text of the documents (unless you have access), it does bring to the fore areas that were previously hidden to searchers.

Scholar was a project dreamed up during "20% time," that is, the time Google allows its employees to sit around dreaming up cool stuff. Other Google features created during such free-thinking hours include Froogle, Local Search, spell-checking, and "define" -- getting the definition of words simply by typing in "define" and the word you want the meaning of in the search box.

Research papers are on sites that would not normally be spidered by search engines, Google's or anyone else's, so they would remain hidden even though they are available on the Web. By arranging with the publishers to gain access to the sites, Google has given researchers the ability to easily find such materials. Revenues earned by the services from any resulting subscription fees are not shared with Google.

The company said that it has benefited greatly from scholarly research and this is its way of giving back to the research community, hence the tag line "Stand on the shoulders of giants."

More than likely, it will also provide a rich avenue of advertising. While Scholar currently does not carry sponsored ads, the opportunity to target a highly specialized audience would be quite lucrative. Advertisers themselves would undoubtedly benefit from being able to put an ad for their nanotech services, for example, next to a search for nanotubes.

There's also the opportunity to expand into other so-called "vertical" searches such as travel, recreation, sports, or virtually any industry sector. First-generation vertical search engines -- think of travel sites such as Expedia or Orbitz -- are more akin to agents rather than publishers. They're not independent of their allied partners and so do not necessarily provide unbiased information. A true vertical search engine would focus upon a specific topic or industry and provide greater relevance to the user.

Froogle was a step in that direction, beholden to no specific retailer and casting its net wide over the Web. Scholar is more of a true vertical search engine that will probably be the start of many more iterations. With multiple streams of revenue possible -- from site listings, subscriber fees, and paid advertising -- vertical search could be the Next Big Thing.

Still, until Google launches the beta of Dunce, I probably won't be putting Scholar to much use myself.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey considers Coors Light to be the Next Big Thing. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article.