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July saw the much fan-fared launch of Cuil (pronounced cool), which so far, to many in the industry, hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.

Billed as a potential Google killer and dubbed the “world's biggest search engine”, the initial response has been lukewarm, with mixed reviews from many of the industry.

It certainly didn’t help that the site went down shortly after launch and that general first impressions certainly haven’t put Cuil in the same league as Google (or Yahoo and MSN for that matter).

Mike Moran of Search Engine Guide said:

“Each of Google's competitors over the years has claimed that it had a better search engine than Google at one time or another. No one listened, because Google is perfectly good, thank you. The next real battle for Google will be fought on higher ground than just search. Perhaps someone will buy Cuil to mount that attack on Google, but don't expect the battle to be won by Cuil itself”.

Speaking to Time, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land added:

"Anybody who thought [Cuil] was this Google killer can really see now that no, that's not going to happen today - and the likelihood is that's not going to happen a year from now."

Judging Cuil this early on is a bit unfair, and I will personally reserve judgement for a bit yet. However, there is no doubt that there is still room for improvement if Cuil wants to become a dominant force in search.

This begs the question; who will be able to achieve sufficient success in the search marketplace to compete against Google?

The other big three - Yahoo/MSN/Ask
There has been a lot of talk regarding the possible merger between Yahoo and Microsoft; a move that would certainly change the current search landscape.

However, it would only scratch the surface of search ownership (given that recent search statistics suggest Google has up to 87% of UK users utilising its technologies at present). With new entrants to the marketplace, such as Cuil, I imagine the space that MSN and Yahoo currently occupy is going to become more and more congested.

Ask recently carried out a significant shake-up in the way it presents its search index, supported by a fairly significant TV budget. However this seems to have done little to change its current position within the UK search hierarchy. It is therefore unlikely to pick up any more than just token wins now or in the foreseeable future.

The advent of Web 2.0 search engines

With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, there are a number of engines providing some innovative solutions. These include engines like Searchme (which provides enhanced flash stacks of its search results); Mnemomap (which provides a more interactive SERP overview); and Quintura (a visual search engine which has received some significant funding over recent years).

While these search engines provide a glimpse of what potentially could be the future of search, there is still little pickup for such services, with traditional search services and social media still pretty much dominating the search landscape.

The rise of the vertical specific search engine and social media
Social media in particular has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over recent years. Sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo have seen millions of subscribers join their ranks. These social networks have become a place for people to find information; a function that was previously been the sole domain of the search engines. For example:

  • Linkedin – the business network allows people to find other people within the same company, job, location, interests etc.
  • MySpace – which is currently reinventing itself as a primary source for music.
  • SkyScanner – gives users the ability to compare flights.
  • Moneysupermarket – the price comparison website allows easy comparison of financial information.
  • And finally, Facebook – potentially this could throw a couple of cats among the pigeons, not least due to a deal which will integrate MSN Live as Facebook’s search engine results provider (an interesting deal, which may be worth keeping an eye on).

Vertical specific search engines are also thriving in the current climate, such as:

  • Rightmove in property.
  • Monster in jobs.

While these are not strictly search engines in the traditional sense of the word, they do provide users with more specialised levels of search, and become primary points for such searches, rather than secondary search mechanisms. Thus reducing the initial requirement for the search engine to ‘refine’ the search, and prequalify the browser.

There are also a number of very innovative sites such as Everyscape.com, which could still further steal traffic away from secondary competitors such as Yell.com.

This is a site the head of search at Mediavest, Jon Myers has raved about - and rightly so in my opinion. Very much like Google StreetMaps in its functionality, it has taken a step further and allows users to even step INSIDE the buildings and get a real feel for a place before they even visit it, as well as offering the ability to  advertise within it. This is Web 2.0 being utilised well in my opinion, and is certainly a benchmark for the likes of Yell and Google Local to aspire to.

Are there any other potential competitors?
There has been a number of other smaller launches over the course of the last year, including Mahalo, the "world's first human powered search engine”.

However, none of these are quite in a position (as yet) to effectively compete against the current monopoly Google enjoys. In my opinion, Google’s biggest threat may not come from such sources and may indeed, come from further afield.

One of the sessions at SES London discussed just such an issue, with two of the panel suggesting Baidu may provide the biggest test to Google’s monopoly. Baidu enjoys primary market share in China, with 69.5%, and dwarfs Google’s market share of 23%. Only time will tell…

So what for Google?

Criticism that can never be aimed at Google is that it suffers from at lack of innovation.

Over the last couple of years, Google has trialled a number of new services, including; Click to Call, Google Checkout and more recently, Merchant Search. This, alongside more technological advances such as personal and localised search services, have only served to enhance and further establish Google as the primary search vehicle for much of the Western Hemisphere.

Such innovation can only serve to keep Google at the forefront of the industry, but like many organisations before it, Google’s time at the pinnacle of the industry will eventually come to the end. My personal thoughts are that this is not going to happen for a good few years yet.

Peter Young is the SEO Manager at Mediavest.The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.

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Published 11 August, 2008 by Peter Young

4 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

Emma Kane

Emma Kane, Director and CEO at Iknowthe.net

Google now has 90% UK market share according to Hitwise (May '08). Anyone launching a new SE and hoping for a share of that had do more testing than cuil did....

over 8 years ago

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Ciarán

I think you're right - Google won't be king for ever, but it seems unlikely that there will be any sort of coup in the foreseeable future. Your example fo Ask is exactly spot on - serious innovation, a really nice interface, some attention grabbing advertising (on both sides of the pond) and the result? A stagnating, if not decreasing market share.

I've spent quite a lot of time looking at the various alternative engines recently and it strikes me that they all rely on some sort of gimmick - none of them simply concentrate on providing the the best results (with the possible exception of Wikia but that demands a lot of user interaction).

The only real cloud on Google's horizon is, I think, the news that the Golden Goose that is AdWords may be starting to run out of eggs (http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/09/does-google-have-an-organic-growth-problem/)

over 8 years ago

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Chris

Cuil is definitely going for it, but it's hard to imagine them doing anything but incremental changes to what Google's done. And even that would take years of effort.

Me.dium.com has taken a different tack. We have a full web index, but we change the results based on the surfing activity of our user base (now over 2,000,000). It's in alpha, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. http://me.dium.com/search

over 8 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

I can't see anyone challenging Google in search in the near future.

As I've said before, I don't actually think that it's their search algorithm which is their real USP but their massive network / scaling capacity. Have you ever met a Google Network Engineer? I reckon they're a more closely guarded secret than their algorithm bods. Look at Cuil - so what if you've indexed all the pages in the world if your site falls over under the strain of actually being used...

Whilst Google is dominant in search it is worth bearing in mind that that is about all they are dominant in, excluding perhaps online video through their YouTube acquisition. Chat / IM is 'owned' by Instant Messenger; Webmail is still dominated by Hotmail; Photo sharing is Flickr (Yahoo! owned) - have you even heard of Google's equivalent Picasa?; PayPal still trounces Checkout; Facebook beats Orkut; WordPress beats Blogger etc. etc. (actually online mapping is pretty much Google's at the moment I'd say).

I think Google's main challenge is one of growth. How do they keep growing as fast as they have done? Paid search is still growing, and more so in some markets than others, but at a much reduced rate. Google isn't seeing huge growth in many of its other products and services as listed above (and you can see others at http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/options/).

I've also always maintained that the reason Google took off in the first place wasn't actually anything to do with them having 'more relevant results' as people always say but a) because its interface was so clean and simple relative to Alta Vista's ad-stuffed, and therefore slow, page at the time and b) it was about 50 times *faster* than any other search engine (which was particularly important in those dial-up days). So actually their USPs were user interface and speed (which comes back to their amazing networked computing capabilities) not relevancy.

If you look at Yahoo! and Live Search results these days they are almost identical to Google's in terms of UI, speed and relevancy. But people don't switch because Google is still 'good enough' and the others don't offer anything dramatically better in the way that Google did back then.

Ironically, however, Google may be getting forced into diversifying (to grow) into all sorts of other areas outside of search such that its interface is getting more complex, and slower. I've got iGoogle but I never use it to be honest. I think take up on these personalised homepages is miniscule in the great scheme of things. I'd rather keep the clean, simple, fast, just search page thanks.

I think the growth will come from mobile and TV. If I were Google it's obvious that you would want to own the search / information management interface across all devices. They pretty much own the beginning of must user journeys on the web, so why wouldn't they want to do this on phone and TV too? Google will become your 'life management' interface to everything, across all channels.

I wouldn't underestimate the scale of Google's ambition in these areas - I think we've barely seen the start. With its massive financial resources, and enormous advertiser base, it could do all sorts of things with free mobile and TV propositions that are ad-funded.

I read that Google owns most of the future bandwidth in the UK and has been busy setting up data centres ostensibly to support the demands of YouTube for video streaming. But I think they're building the media delivery infrastructure of the future. I think the "we can't figure out how to make money out of YouTube" argument might be a smokescreen for the real reason YouTube is valuable to Google i.e. to figure out what video/audio content people want, and how to deliver it, in order to own the future of TV / converged media.

On mobile, I can't see how the operators will manage to stop people bypassing their portals and getting all content and data delivered by IP in the end. AOL was never going to be able to lock people within its portal forever, nor will the mobile operators. Why shouldn't the default screen on my mobile be a Google one?

Unless I'm mistaken Google only ever floated less than 10% of the company. So if you were Sergey or Larry what would you do? I'd go for complete world domination... why not?

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
E-consultancy.com

over 8 years ago

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