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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Is Every New Search Engine Just a "Feature"?

Glancing over press for a new social search engine, prefound.com, I'm struck by a few (hopefully of the "pre-found" variety, as my grandaddy used to pronounce "profound") thoughts. I do like the idea of shared recommending as part of the search scene -- hey, who doesn't ... didn't Yahoo build their own My Web thing? BUT:

  • This isn't new. Again, poor Jonathan Abrams (HotLinks.com), and the founders of Backflip.com came up with something called shared bookmarking or social bookmarking back during the Web 1.0 bubble. Same idea. Good idea. Went bust financially, unfortunately. And many of the creators got criticized, defunded, and forgotten all too quickly.
  • If it's a way of improving search relevance, then leaders like Yahoo and Google will simply build it into what they do.
  • Or, they'll buy you out.
  • So, the complaint that Web 2.0 companies are mostly about building and flipping to Yahoo, Microsoft, or Google (let's not forget eBay and Amazon), is not without validity, it seems to me.
Have we reached the stage where Internet functionality and search are largely controlled by Borg-like brands? To beat them, you'd have to be pretty unconcerned about money (they'll wave $50 million in your face to acquire what you have without even breaking a sweat... try not to hug and kiss them when they do). And you'd have to have something pretty revolutionary. At a high level, no major new brand has emerged in this space since 1999, when we began watching it.

Switch gears a bit. How does something like Flickr or Skype revolutionize the world as an independent force? Certainly not by selling so early to a Yahoo or an eBay. The best-known brands just got stronger and savvier by tapping the energy of these fast-growing plays.

Looking ahead to when we once again look back in earnest at the 1995-2005 period in Internet business growth, Google's emergence as a major brand out of the ashes of the first wave may someday look more improbable and fortuitous than is commonly supposed. All noise aside, it was built around two cores: relentless leadership in search and the user experience, and a more efficient ad platform. The third, crucial component: raising money and catching an equity bubble. People underestimate how game-changing that part of it is.

Final point: the biggest stories to hit in 2006 are likely to be about even further consolidation of giants. At least one major merger will happen amongst the top six Internet companies and the top six or so diversified global media companies.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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