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

Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.40 -0.20 -1.20%
Yahoo! Inc 42.00 1.82 4.53%
Apple Inc 102.99 0.52 0.51%
Facebook Inc 78.37 -0.32 -0.41%
Boston Scientific Co... 12.32 0.29 2.41%
Data as of Oct 22
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,461.32 -153.49 -0.92%
Nasdaq 4,382.85 -36.63 -0.83%
S&P 500 1,927.11 -14.17 -0.73%
Treasuries 2.23 0.02 0.95%
Data as of 6:17am ET
More Galleries
Some Converse copycats cost big bucks A few bargain brands got swept up in Chuck Taylor's net, but others cost a pretty penny. More
Urban infrastructure gets a second life Railroad beds become parks, power plants become aquariums and slaughterhouses are now art centers as an industrial past turns people-centric. More
Boomtown moms From working mothers raising their kids in RVs to stay-at-home moms who spend their days organizing events for the Oil Wives club, meet the moms of North Dakota's oil boom. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.