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Breaking Views

No one can touch Google on search

Rivals are still trying in vain to make a search engine that could make a dent in Google's dominance.

By Robert Cyran, breakingviews.com

(breakingviews.com) -- Suddenly, search engines seem to be multiplying.

Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) is set to unveil Kumo, its latest effort to crack Google's dominance in search. Meanwhile sites like Wolframalpha and Newssift are trying to find safe and profitable niches for searches that add specialist value. Sadly, Google's supposed rivals have mostly done better at generating hype than meaningful results.

Microsoft's efforts to take on Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) are starting to appear quixotic. It has been unveiling new search initiatives for years, yet its share has now shrunk to less than 10% of the U.S. market, according to Comscore. Google's is 64%. Kumo's rumored new features sound evolutionary, not radical.

A more promising approach is to concentrate on niches overlooked by Google. The new Wolframalpha search engine aims to answer technical and scientific queries. That sounds promising, because the site's founder, Stephen Wolfram, developed the well regarded modeling program Mathematica. Wolframalpha's method also sounds impressive: The site uses algorithms and interrogates high-quality databases to compute answers to questions.

Unfortunately, the results don't deliver - even in its supposed forte of maths and sciences. Type in "second derivative" and the site hasn't a clue. Biology doesn't fare better. Type in "dog" and you get an impressive list of statistics on the species canis lupus. Dogs are indeed a sub-species of grey wolves, but chihuahuas don't get as heavy as people and have tails almost two feet long.

Newssift, the specialized search site for news launched by the Financial Times Group, offers a host of helpful-looking methods to drill down on specialized news items. The results, sadly, appear scattershot at best.

These could just be teething pains. But failing to hit the ground running makes it easier for Google to catch up. And history doesn't provide much reason for optimism. Take Cuil. Ex-Google employees launched the site to much fanfare last year, but the search engine couldn't even locate itself at first. It hasn't caught on.

It's not so much a problem with the new sites' ideas or their developers' pedigrees. It's more that, if it chooses, Google can outgun them so easily. That may become a concern for competition-minded regulators. In the meantime, upstart rivals are still searching for the page that tells them how to avoid being squashed by Google. To top of page

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