“Human Touch”

The NY Times has an article wondering if the ‘Human Touch’ will loosen Google’s grip on the search industry.

First the obvious comments. The press thrives on controversy, it makes for interesting news which sells. There also seems to be this obsession with looking for the next Google, I see it in the press and the VCs, everyone want to find, and back, the next Google, thereby securing fame and/or fortune (most likely both.)

Now for the less obvious comments.

Matt Cutts (by way of John Battelle) verbalizes this one much more eloquently than I ever could, so go and read his article. The crux of his argument is that even though the article draws a contrast between algorithm based search engines (cold machines) and social based search engines (warm fuzzy humans), the former are built by humans and rely on data created and compiled by humans. I do know that many engineers (like me) pour their heart and soul into the systems they develop, so all systems have very human roots.

Google is very deeply ensconced in the market in ways which make it very difficult to dislodge in the short term. Adwords has deep roots all over the internet, their search works well enough, their applications are good enough, smart enough and da’gone’it people like them. Their share price strongly suggests that Wall Street is very confident that there is plenty of market share and revenue left for them to grow into.

Even if a Google ‘killer’ appeared on the scene, I don’t feel there is enough oxygen in the market for a new-comer to take them on. Even Microsoft, Yahoo and Ask, all of whom have deep pockets and roughly equal technology are slowly getting asphyxiated.

From a strategic point of view, an eye need to be kept on the following:

  • There will be a Google ‘killer’ at some point, but not in the short-term, and probably not in the medium-term. The chink in their armor has yet to reveal itself.
  • Any Google ‘killer’ has to be much, much better than Google just because people feel that their search engine is just ‘better’.
  • Google is not standing still, they will keep improving.
  • Google needs to pay attention to their market-share, making sure that healthy competition exists in the market otherwise the trust-busters will come calling. Google needs Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask, Amazon and EBay to keep competition healthy and keep everyone honest. This only helps the customer.

While I don’t feel there is currently much oxygen in the market for a Google ‘killer’, there is plenty of room for vertical search engines which combine web based & user generated content, provide tools to engage users such as blogs and forums, and some sort of commercial component.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Google, I use their products every day because they are good. It has been a very interesting ten years since they came on the scene, and the next ten years will prove an interesting ride, and I would not miss it for the world.

Update: SearchEngineLand also has a post on this with additional links.


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