Who Cares About Slightly Better Search Engines

There’s an article on Read/WriteWeb about the “Top 100 Search Engines“.

The article suggests:

“each one of these search engines has that standard “About Us” link at the bottom of the homepage. I call it the “why we’re better than Google” page. And after reading dozens and dozens of these pages, I have come to the conclusion that, taken as a whole, they are right!”

Better than Google? In reality, building a slightly better mousetrap isn’t going to get any of them anywhere.

Most people’s search engine problem – think of something, type it into the search box, get list – is pretty much solved by existing services. The only thing that will make people migrate is a substantially better offering, offered in the right way, at the right time. And Google would need to simultaneously turn into a pile of crap.

It’s a long shot.

AltaVista didn’t lose the game simply because of inferior technology. Not initially, anyway. AltaVista lost the game because they liked nothing better than to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot, thus alienating their user-base in the process. Even then, it took years for most people to switch to the technologically superior, and audience friendly, upstart – Google.

Also, scale is important. Search in 2007 is largely an infrastructure question. Can these little engines cope if they are asked to process millions of queries per minute? The resources required to do that, both human and machine, are enormous. The question isn’t so much “are you a better search engine?”. The question is “can you scale”?

That’s not to say the search wars are over. In many ways, they’re just beginning. It is possible to say some of the smaller engines might be better than Google or Yahoo at doing certain things (vertical and/or local search, for example). However, I suspect the next mega-company in search won’t just provide a new cute feature here, a flashy feature there – they’ll redefine what it means to search. And get answers. And they’ll be able to deliver, on a massive scale.

And don’t think Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask haven’t thought about providing just that. They probably do. Every day.

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