Why Google's Search Dominance Won't Wane
Google's search engine dominance is rarely in question, but folks such as Wikipedia and Wikia co-founder Jimmy Wales hope to change that, using open source search engines powered by people instead of mathematical algorithms. Experts consider the future of search, wondering if anything can wrest the search engine and Web services throne from Google.
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and Wikia, last week shared his view on why search engine startups bother to compete with Google. The search engine has, by most accounts, 60 percent to 70 percent of the search market worldwide.
Game over, right? Not necessarily, according to Wales, who told me the lack of a network effect enables users to easily move from one search service to the next. This is in contrast to other Web services, such as Facebook or MySpace, whose social networks can bar people from leaving.
Once you've put your info in Facebook or MySpace, it's in there. Despite the Google-fostered OpenSocial effort, it's still not practical to move all of your data from one social network to the next.
Google users aren't encumbered by this; they are free to move about from Web service to Web service. Wales told me that if a company can offer search with augmented value, such as Wikia's peer-influenced approach of letting users instead of machines influence search results, that company might have a shot at luring some users from the Googlezilla.
Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle agreed with Wales that the switching cost for the user is low, meaning Google could get nibbled to death by services that target specific users or groups.
However, he allowed that the advantage Google has is that we are all "creatures of habit and need a cattle prod, once we have become familiar with a product, to move us off of it."
I agree with this statement, which is reflective of the "if it isn't broke don't fix it" adage. And, while I appreciate Wales' and Enderle's shared sentiment about opportunities for new players in search, I respectfully disagree.
If a new player, be it Wikia, Cuil, Mahalo, or Hakia, begins to take share from Google, Google or someone else will likely buy it. Look at Microsoft and Powerset. Powerset positioned its semantic search as Google killer and Microsoft snapped it up.
Also, while desktop search ads are currently the main moneymaker accounting for Google's $16 billion a year-plus sales, Google has just created a mobile operating system in Android that seems primed to keep users searching Google from smart phones and God knows what other devices.
If you trust that mobile is the next frontier for search, then Google already has a leg up provided carriers create phones in addition to the new T-Mobile G1.
Toss Google's Gmail and other apps, which may be paired with ads, YouTube's video ads and new e-commerce platform, and a litany of other Web services Google monetizes or plans to monetize with ads, and it's hard to find a crack in Google's great armor.