Is Google search vulnerable in 2007?

Ask.com, Wikiasari, Powerset...How vulnerable is Google to challengers in search in 2007?
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wants to beat Google at its winning game, search, as I present in “Google search challenge from Wikipedia founder in 2007?”; He cites “obvious flaws” in Google search as motivation.


The New York Times profiles Powerset today, a natural language search start-up in “semi-stealth mode,” also aiming at trumping Google’s 50% search share leadership.


PayPal founder Peter Thiel is an investor, asserting:


Powerset is poised to out-Google Google. Powerset moves beyond clunky key-words to a natural language search that allows you to find what you want just by asking for it.


Powerset touts it is “building a transformative consumer search engine,” via:


breakthrough technologies that take advantage of the structure and nuances of natural language. Using these advanced techniques, Powerset is building a large-scale search engine that breaks the confines of keyword search.


According to the company, “By making search more natural and intuitive, Powerset is fundamentally changing how we search the web, and delivering higher quality results.”


Powerset Web search can not currently be tested, however; “Please check back in the near future for more information about the company and its products.”


The Powerset Blog does allow for search, though; Presumably it is powered by Powerset's “search engine that breaks the confines of keyword search.”


As currently presented, Powerset’s blog search function is similar in look and feel to the Google.com keyword search box experience (see screenshot at left). I entered the word “news” and was returned “search results” as shown below.


The unchecked boxes on the SERP labeled “Match case” and “Regex search” do not seem “natural and intuitive” for consumers searching; No explanation is offered.




The lack of “news” results is also surprising as a "consumer" searcher might expect a company blog to include company “news.” Inconsistent nomenclature is used in the presentation of a lack of “news” results within the blog; The heading “Entries matching ‘news’” is followed by “No pages were found containing 'news'.


Wales is hoping to leverage a “community of trust” to enhance the consumer search experience. Wales' discussion of how the community may operate in Wikiasari via “one second” judgements, however, does not instill “trust”:


If you consider one of the basic tasks of a search engine, it is to make a decision: this page is good, this page sucks. Computers are notoriously bad at making such judgments, so algorithmic search has to go about it in a roundabout way. But we have a really great method for doing that ourselves. We just look at the page. It usually only takes a second to figure out if the page is good, so the key here is building a community of trust that can do that.


Start-ups are not the only search engines hoping to outgun Google. Barry Diller, CEO IAC/InterActive Corp, underscored the $11 billion market cap “integrated conglomerate” commitment to growing search engine Ask.com, at the expense of competitors, such as search engine leader Google.


I present and analyze the Ask.com 2007 growth strategy in “Google and Ask.com: Inseparable?” and “Ask is IAC’s glue: AskCity to AskX to AskNews”: 


IAC is keen on “capturing growth” from competitors… Expect to finish 2006 with 25% query growth on Ask.com U.S.…We will continue to invest in Ask in 2007 to continue taking share and for growth in 1) users, 2) queries and 3) revenues.


I point out, however, that while Ask.com seeks to “continue taking share” from competitors for growth, it is also helping its main competitor, Google, grow via a “paid listing supply agreement”: 


If Ask’s own advertising product and sales force “business is doing great,” why does Ask need Google? Why is Ask sharing advertising revenues with the dominant search engine and helping its competitor grow even more?


I ask if Ask.com will be able to control its own advertising revenues and its own monetization destiny in 2007. As it stands now, “the substantial majority of its advertising revenues are attributable to a paid listing supply agreement with Google.”


Ask.com search engine is dependent upon a third party company for its revenue model: rival, and leading, search engine Google. Powerset’s search engine operations are dependent upon a third party company: Amazon, a $16 billion market cap company and search engine A9 owner.


Powerset announced in November:


it is using the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) web service from Amazon Web Services for the computing capacity necessary to run its business…


In the past, the upfront capital required to build out a datacenter big enough to scour the entire web and serve queries for millions of users was a significant barrier to seriously competing with companies like Google and Yahoo!


Serious competition necessitates not only "breakthrough" concepts, but serious monetization capabilities and serious proprietary technology, on an in-house basis, not an out-sourced to competitors one.


Google on what it believes is its unbeatable, in-house, proprietary competitive technology advantage:

From the beginning, Google's developers recognized that providing the fastest, most accurate results required a new kind of server setup. Whereas most search engines ran off a handful of large servers that often slowed under peak loads, Google employed linked PCs to quickly find each query's answer. The innovation paid off in faster response times, greater scalability and lower costs. It's an idea that others have since copied, while Google has continued to refine its back-end technology to make it even more efficient.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt on what he believes is Google's unbeatable, in-house, proprietary competitive monetization advantage:

the Google advertising system is literally the best place to put your sales dollars. In a theoretical global recession…I’m sure that we would benefit by the fact that our performance is simply better than the other alternatives.

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