Pinning the Tail On The Googoliath Killer

All the Social Media Camp and Mashable festivities sidetracked me yesterday, so here’s a slightly delayed post of this week’s Mediapost column.

What might a Google killer look like?

Last week a lot of people were musing whether it would have search
results in three columns with tabbed pages and irrelevant thumbnail
images, with a black homepage background instead of a white one. That
so-called killer,  in the form of Cuil,
wound up not being a case of Goliath meeting its David so much as it
was Goliath waking up with a minor case of halitosis. It was at most a
temporary nuisance, and as is often the case with halitosis, it seemed
to rile everyone else much more than it bothered the one afflicted with
it.

Here’s another vision of what a Google killer looks like: it’s a
downloadable program rather than a Web site, but you can use this
program to access any site you want. You can use it to search, but it’s
much more effective to visit Web sites you already know about and
probably visited before. If you can’t remember a site you visited
previously, you can type in a relevant keyword or two and it will show
you the relevant sites from your history. You can customize the program
to access countless other programs and tools, from weather forecasts to
Twitter, all without going to any other site at all.

You might recognize this killer as the Web browser Mozilla Firefox,
version 3 specifically. Its “awesome bar,” where one enters a site’s
URL, is extremely effective at bringing up relevant sites visited
previously. For instance, if I type in “video,” the links it suggests
include a Facebook video application, digg.com (its page title says
“All News, Videos, & Images”), VideoEgg, CNN, Myhava.com (a site
for a Slingbox-type device), and video search engine Pixsy. In practice
that means I don’t need to run a search if I can’t remember the name of
the video news site, application, search engine, ad network, or gadget
I wanted to visit. 

While Firefox 3 just launched in June and it’s too soon to gauge its
impact, it’s conceivable to envision Firefox eroding the number of
searches conducted over time. Firefox is the bigger threat to Google
than another search engine because Firefox changes user behavior. The
smarter Firefox gets and the more users grow accustomed to it, the more
it can eat away at the massive volume of searches that are meant as
direct navigation, where one searches for a known site instead of
typing it in. That in turn is a mixed bag for marketers. On one hand,
marketers may be able to decrease search spending on consumer retention
since they won’t be paying for some consumers to return to their site.
On the other hand, every search is an opportunity for multiple
marketers to make their pitch, so generally marketers lose out by
decreased search inventory.

Whether or not Firefox delivers the impact described here, it’s
still important to look for disruptive forces rather than marginally
different competitors. TV networks aren’t threatened so much by other
networks or even other media; NielsenMedia reported U.S. viewers
watched an average of 4 hours and 34 minutes of TV from 2006 to 2007,
up from 3 hours, 56 minutes a decade earlier, even as Internet
penetration and usage skyrocketed.  TV’s biggest threat is from digital
video recorders, which are offered by cable providers who, somewhat
ironically, want people to watch more TV. As another example, Hotmail
and Yahoo Mail may have faced competition from Gmail, but all of them
face challenges from increasing communication across social networks,
instant messaging, and text messaging. Automakers are less threatened
by newer models like the Prius than they are by economic forces that
lead consumers to take public transportation instead of upgrading their
car. The Hummer killer isn’t the Prius — it’s Amtrak.

Think back a decade ago. There was this beloved, quirky powerhouse
of a site that billed itself as a directory which made it easy for
consumers to browse through its categories and find all of the best
sites on the sprawling web; there was also easy access to email, news,
and stock quotes. Then along came this new site with an equally goofy
name but with barely any functionality or links. There was really only
one thing you could do with it. Yahoo wasn’t bested by another portal
but by a search engine.

Whether that search engine in turn is bested by a browser or
something else entirely, recall that the heavily armed warrior Goliath
was outfoxed by an underage, musically gifted shepherd with a
slingshot. No one was looking at David saying, “That’ll be the Goliath
killer.”

2 thoughts on “Pinning the Tail On The Googoliath Killer

  1. This is a very valid point. Even more so when you take into consideration that Microsoft and Mozilla may end their data sharing support with Google, killing their ability to track and get feedback.
    The reason I can see why this won’t kill Google is the Google Toolbar which is equally as convenient as many of these tools (perhaps Google will add an advanced options tab to their toolbar to compete).

  2. Whether that search engine in turn is bested by a browser or something else entirely, recall that the heavily armed warrior Goliath was outfoxed by an underage, musically gifted shepherd with a slingshot. No one was looking at David saying, “That’ll be the Goliath killer

    That has to one of the best points I’ve read. I’ve dreamed up a better search engine, but trying to beat Google at their own game is hard to fathom. The one that does, as you noted, will probably come from a place no one expected. Certainly there is hope.

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