Is Google A Safe Bet?

In News on May 23, 2008 at 6:20 am

(Pic from Cjcj)

While everyone has been poring over the turn of events between Microsoft and Yahoo!, as well as exposing the weaknesses on both companies in terms of their core competencies and ability to innovate itself into relevance, Victor Keegan from the Guardian chose to look at Google and question its position.

An excerpt from the Guardian:

So why is Google popular and is it dislodge-able? It all comes down to that frightful word “brand”. But Google is unprecedented because it built up its brand without any paid advertising. We did it for them. It became a verb in record time. It became one of the world’s most profitable brands in barely a decade.


Google is more vulnerable than people think. It is brilliant at displaying the answers most linked to – but not if what you want is buried deep in the search pile. If a nimble startup delivers a more intelligent engine, people will soon change, as they did when they ditched AltaVista for Google a decade ago. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have all been upstaged in video and networking sites by brand new startups. Why not search as well?


The company’s “Don’t be Evil” motto is part of its brand despite its failure to stand up to Chinese censorship. If it had, other companies might have followed its lead and eaten into Chinese obduracy. Google is still a one-product company with search-related ads generating nearly all of its profits.

This could change if a better engine emerges or if it becomes the latest victim to Lord Acton’s dictum: “All power tends to corrupt.” If that happened I could retain all the Google products I treasure (maps, documents, Gmail etc) and spend a few seconds changing my default search engine.

Bottom line is, Google’s not perfect, and there are niches that can still be filled–such vulnerability was written about by Robert Scoble on his post about Google’s bots not accessing Facebook’s data, and how that can be exploited by Microsoft. Then yesterday, Malaysian Internet columnist Oon Yeoh wrote a column about Powerset, a newly launched search engine that uses “natural language”, making it a more effective search engine for sites like Wikipedia.

An excerpt from Oon’s column:

Last week, a new kind of search engine was launched. It’s called Powerset and its mission is to provide a better way to search, using “natural language”. That means instead of typing in keywords like “Oon” and “Yeoh”, you type in questions like “Who is Oon Yeoh?”

The service is still in its infancy and it doesn’t even attempt to index the World Wide Web. For now, its search is confined to content on Wikipedia. I know this seems incredibly underwhelming but think about it. There is a real need for a good search engine for Wikipedia.


Wikipedia is a highly organised, highly structured website. This makes it relatively easy for Powerset to analyse and index the meaning of the content it finds there. To do this for the entire web is a different kettle of fish. It’s an undertaking that seems almost too challenging.

To manage expectations, Powerset’s CEO Barney Pell has said Powerset is not meant to be a Google killer. Instead, it will focus on “high value” websites, such as Wikipedia. There’s speculation that it will next index blogs or news articles.


Natural language search has the potential to produce more accurate and more interesting results but for most people, keyword search is more than adequate. Thus, Powerset is no replacement for Google. If anything, it complements it.

Perhaps, Google should just buy it up. Perhaps, that’s just what Powerset wants.

The point is, that there are many ways to search the internet being created, and Google is still in a prime position to improve itself, snapping up other start-ups coming into the market that could potentially make it obsolete like AltaVista.

But I doubt Google will fail to adapt itself. It’s got such a long-term vision with such people like Vint Cerf on board looking towards Cloud Computing and IPTV (Okay, so I was very taken in by his “Internet 2035” Keynote at the recent WCIT), and its ability to draw innovation from within and integrate new technology are prime reasons for its success today.

Google’s hasn’t lost its grip on its core competency, like Microsoft has, and for that reason, it can constantly afford to try out new ideas that will ensure its safety for years to come. It won’t be a one-product company in the future, like Keegan says.


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