Google : Victim of Its Own Success?

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One of the persistent complaints for the last year or so about Google is that it’s too powerful now — owning 45% to 60%+ of Internet search. To that end, next year will see the launch of several general-purpose search engines that seek to become the “Google killer.” The latest — like candidates running for president — to add its name to the list is Wikiasari.

The oft-cited justification for new search engines is: “search is broken,” or some version of that mantra. But really these guys all want a piece of the almost $7 billion US search market. And it’s very very unlikely that if Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL and IAC have not been able to take share from Google that a new me-too engine (with some novel twist) will do so.

Notwithstanding the competition in search, the practical reality of a single commercial entity effectively becoming the gateway to the Internet, as it is for many, is of growing concern to some people. The existence of the SEM/SEO industry and the text of various lawsuits point out how critical a good ranking is on Google.

Back to Wikiasari … it might have the right approach but for the wrong reasons.

The right argument might be not “search is broken” but that if search is indeed the navigational backbone of the Internet it should be a public resource that uses some combination of human input and machine ranking to facilitate information delivery and retrieval. Nutch and Lucerne, among the potential pieces of infrastructure for Wikiasari, are such open-source search engines. But they’re not widely known.

One problem is funding. If it’s going to be VCs or private capital of any kind there’s going to be an expected return, etc. That just creates another commercial engine likely to go down in flames amid all the grandiose claims and hype. All this implies government intervention (Yikes!). And there’s the question of quality; how good would any publicly funded or volunteer, “open-source engine” be? (Wikipedia is something of a response to that question. Also DMOZ.)

Probably huge investments would need to be made to compete for usage. Because this idea only works if there’s a real alternative out there to Google. I’m not talking about quality of results but market share. (Of course there are other engines that offer comparable — some would argue better — results. But without sufficient market share it’s like a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear.)

It’s like they used to say in college: “Equally attractive non-alcoholic beverage.” But we all know that when you’re in college there’s no such thing.

Greg Sterling is the founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, a consulting and research firm focused on online consumer and advertiser behavior and the relationship between the Internet and traditional media, with an emphasis on the local marketplace.

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  • Keith Eysmun

    Why does being the “navigational backbone” of the Internet mean search engines should be a “public resource,” by which I assume you mean publicly owned in some way? Would you argue that TV Guide should have been publicly owned when it was the “navigational backbone” of broadcast TV? Or that private mapping companies should be publicly owned because they’re the “navigational backbone” of finding your way around roads ? Or that airports and airlines should be publicly owned because they’re the “navigational backbone” of our air system? Or that Windows should be publicly owned because it’s the “navigational backbone” of your computer?

    There already ARE “real alternatives” to Google: Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask, Baidu, Naver, and Delicious. Also, people can just type in URLs directly, or click their bookmarks, or click someone else’s blogroll. If these alternatives don’t have market share, it’s not the responsibility of the government to change that. It’s the responsibility of those companies.

    Google is a free product with close to zero consumer switching costs. If consumers like it enough to keep giving it more market share, why is that any sort of public problem in the least?

  • Schmuck

    I Think, we all can´t live no longer without the great Google-Brother.

  • Anthony Peppler

    Hasn’t any heard of this, or is everyone blind? The wikisearch is nothing new, other than almost 700k has been donated to to fund everything. IMO

  • Anthony Peppler is the website, I thought it was the title of the post sorry

  • Albert Muraya

    “Google is a free product with close to zero consumer switching costs. If consumers like it enough to keep giving it more market share, why is that any sort of public problem in the least?” – well said Keith. Internet search is the closest you’re going to get to pefect competition.
    Google is successful because it has become the quality benchmark in search. It wasn’t the first, and for a long time MSN had deeper pockets given its parent. Compete or sink.
    As for becoming too Google-dependent; big G risks its pre-eminent position if it skews its results in any way. There is a tried and tested method for achieving high rankings – and its called SEO.
    Remeber IBM and GM – they once also seemed unassailable.

  • Dave White

    Well it won’t be so easy to over run Google in terms of search engine for anyone. It would be similar to that of Linux and Windows.
    In order to become #1 with more than 60% market share Google is one of the favorite of all web-users. I can hardly think of any other search engine except Google for its relevancy.

  • Windows Hosting

    I use google as a search engine only, and many of the people has started to use web applications like, word, excel etc. provided by google. And it took a long period to get on the top of everyone for Google. But now a days there are some issues going on with GG-FF, GG-Y etc. considering those I think other upcoming can take benefit of this. You never know.

  • Michael Martinez

    There was a time when the Yahoo! directory dominated search market share.

    There was a time when the Inktomi search technology dominated search market share.

    There was a time when Altavista dominated search market share.

    Now is the time of Google. It remains to be seen how long Google stays on top.