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Mahalo and other human-assisted search challengers to Google. June 25, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in B2B Media, start-ups.

The New York Times article yesterday about Maholo and other search engines challenging Google by adding humans must have got a chuckle or at least a wry smile from “traditional” publishers. They have been doing “human-assisted search” for 100 years or so.

Yahoo is the best example of how to mix automation with human editors. Of course, given their current turmoil, the human-assisted search proponents are unlikely to hold them up as a poster boy. There are also plenty of very good examples of this within B2B Media, but these sound very unglamorous with names such as directories.

This really is old wine in new bottles. I also believe that the head-on assault on Google is fueled by a me-too approach by investors that will yield very low results.

When Google went public I, like many others, thought the switching costs were too low. I think we all underestimated the power of habit. I use Firefox and have a bunch of search engines in my toolbar, so it is totally simple to try alternatives. I do use alternatives to Google occasionally, mostly because I am interested in the subject. From this small sample, I think Ask may have a shot at being an alternative, but even when I use Ask I still use Google as well to make sure I have not missed anything.

The Google ascendancy is likely to be shorter than Microsoft’s, which was shorter than IBM’s. Shorter ascendancy seems to be one more consequence of Moore’s Law. That maybe interesting academically. However, from a business planning point of view, the way to make money in the next few years will be within the Google ecosystem. Thousands of companies did very well within the Microsoft ecosystem and I suspect that when the history is written there will be many times more from the Google ecosystem.

Research is still one of two killer apps of the Web (communication i.e. email to social networks) is the other. Search is not Research. It is only the start of (Re)search. Every $ earned by Microsoft leveraged many, many more $$$$$ for their ecosystem. Yes their $ at the head of the ecosystem was fantastically profitable and so is Google’s $ at the head of the new ecosystem, but once you get over that fact and learn to live with it there are tons of good opportunities.

Playing within the ecosystem in a niche market has its challenges. One has to be agile and constantly find new ways to add value. When Microsoft/Google says “we want to partner with you and we have no ambition to directly enter your market” you always have to add “at least not yet” at the end. This has been called “picking up peanuts in front of a steamroller” but in the early days of the ecosystem those peanuts are pretty big and the steamroller is still miles away and you can gauge the speed reasonable accurately.

There were very many Microsoft challengers that came and went and many had big funding, determined management and had lots of publicity. The David vs Goliath story is always popular because we all know that usually Goliath wins even while the romantic in us roots for David. A few high profile blow-outs then leave investors with the “don’t invest in a Microsoft/Google killer”.

Those who resented IBM’s dominance welcomed Microsoft in the same way we now welcome Google as they give Microsoft a run for their money. Some day we will do the same when we see a genuine alternative to Google, but I suspect that is many years away when the current crop of challengers will be long gone.



1. The one magic quadrant that every start up needs « B2B media 2.0 and globalization - July 4, 2007

[…] About ← Mahalo and other human-assisted search challengers to Google. […]

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