A highly popular question is “Who will be the Google Killer?” Over the past few years, we saw Robert Scoble argue that Mahalo, Techmeme, and Facebook would do it. As soon as people became aware of Cuil the main question people were asking was whether it would be the one to supplant Google.
Clearly, we’re fascinated by who will supplant Google, and the Web is an incredibly complex place where lots of innovation is happening all the time. Each of the above prospective Google killers has something to offer, but none of them pose an immediate danger to Google.
To understand why, let’s discuss what Google search really is: A way to find the information you need on any topic, at any time. Google does this really well the great majority of the time. Because of the general nature of the service, Google is a one-stop shop for people looking for something.
It’s also interesting to see how the other “Google killer” search engines compare to Google (data is from Compete.com):
Mahalo is the leader of the non-Google sites, and gets more than 7 million visitors per month, according to Compete.com. That’s a lot of traffic.
ComScore data for March 2010 shows Google as having driven more than 10 billion searches in that month. Long way for the competition to go, don’t you think?
Let’s turn our attention to Facebook and Twitter. Amazing things are happening on these sites. Hitwise data showed Facebook (7.07 percent) getting more U.S. web traffic than Google (7.03 percent) in March 2010, though the study compared only the domains Facebook.com and Google.com. That’s pretty impressive!
As for Twitter, they confirmed that their Google Analytics data shows 180 million uniques. Also, 75 percent of Twitter usage actually takes place in third party clients (that wouldn’t show up in the Google Analytics data).
So the traffic on these sites is really significant. However, the main problem is that they really aren’t search engines. You can use them to get answers to questions you have, some of the time, and that’s great. Better still, it makes it easier to get those answers from people you trust.
The problem is, that there are only so many people you actually trust. You may have 12,000 followers on Twitter, but you probably have never had any interaction at all with more than 11,000 of them, and there may be 30, 40, 50 in that lot that you really trust. The knowledge base of those you trust is going to be pretty limited when compared to the things you might be looking for at any point in time.
The next player to talk about is the most significant one, Bing. Let’s start with comScore’s data on search engine market share in March 2010.
Google clearly remains dominant. However, Bing’s market share has crept upward steadily since last year (with growth in 10 straight months). However, this appears mostly to be at the expense of players other than Google.
Still, given Yahoo and Bing’s deal, Bing arguably has more than 26 percent market share (or will once the replacement of Yahoo search by Bing is complete). The real question is, how can Bing begin to steal material market share from Google?
This will take a long time, unless Microsoft comes up with some new disruptive element in search. A couple of areas to look at are voice-enabled search (for mobile devices) and algorithms that mine social data to supplement or replace link analysis as the dominating ranking factor in search.
No doubt that the investment in these directions will be huge, by both Google and Bing. The problem with using social data is that there just isn’t enough of it yet.
People will keep talking about Google killers for so long as they remain dominant, and novel new sites that have search like attributes keep getting released on the market. When might this happen? Simple. Not any time soon.