Thursday, October 05, 2006

Google Killers

First off, two apologies. First, I haven't been writing much recently - school work and other projects here at Penn are taking quite a bit of my time. Second, this blog has not turned into serial commentary on Facebook, Google, and the other big names. They just seem to be the things that have inspired me recently. After this post (which isn't even entirely about Google), I promise to do some pieces on the underground movers, shakers, and trends in our beloved Silicon Valley (or maybe the wasteland of Philadelphia:).

On to Google, and their imminent death. OK, not really, but the wheels are in motion. Companies like Google don't die: they're too big. Google has made it big time, so it won't belly up per say anytime soon. The big timers don't die - they are simply transformed into zombies, shells of their once-great selves, that whither away over a long period of time.

The fertile ground of the Bay Area has been sowed with the seeds of companies that will one day challenge Google. The talk of the town today is Powerset, a search start up that allows people to use natural language when searching and takes into account words that Google ignores. For example (borrowed from the Techcrunch article about the company), "books by kids" is different from "books for kids" is different from "books about kids" in real life, but Google sees them all as "books kids" and returns results accordingly. (An in depth article about Powerset is on VentureBeat.)

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The new, cool search sites are popping up all over the place. A close friend of mine worked at one in Emeryville (near Berkeley) over the summer that incorporated neural networks and thus approached search from a radically different perspective compared to Google, which clings to their patented, antiquated technology (details withheld due to secrecy issues).

The point is that Google's core competency, search, is under fire. Like many Silicon Valley titans with a once-groundbreaking product, Google has chose to diversify their business rather than focus on what makes them good. Their basic offering hasn't really changed in 8 years, and it's now ripe for replacing.

And though it may not seem like it, search is still quite inefficient. Studies report that around 50% of users aren't satisfied with the relevancy of the results from their searches. And, of course, any techie will tell you the Holy Grail of computer science is not only developing a fast, thorough search algorithm but also enabling the search engine to understand exactly what the user desires.

And that's exactly what the next generation search engine will do, whether it's Powerset or someone else.

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