Ten Reasons It’s So Damn Hard to Out-Google Google

Everyone keeps taking on the Search Behemoth. Everyone gets crushed. Here's why.

By  |  Monday, July 28, 2008 at 12:01 pm

6. The massively massive Google server farm. Nobody knows how many machines power Google–the company isn’t talking. But every rational estimate puts it at hundreds of thousands of PCs–at least. That’s why Google can provide results nearly instantly to millions of people all at once.¬† Poor Cuil wasn’t even able to keep up with the relatively small number of people who tried to use it yesterday, and my results were nowhere near as fresh as Google’s.

7. Freshness matters. That giant server farm also lets Google crawl the Web continuously, ensuring that its results are as up-to-date as possible:Even setting aside Google News, doing a Google search is a plausible way to check out what’s going on in the world today.

By comparison, other search engines big and small are on a time delay that makes them less useful. When I search for “eddie davidson spam” on Cuil. for instance, none of the results on the first page mention that he escaped from prison and killed his wife, daughter, and himself last week. On Windows Live Search, most of them mention the jailbreak but not the deaths. On Google, nearly all of the results mention both.

8. Google is everywhere, and your search-engine startup isn’t. The Google Toolbar is among the most widely-used toolbars on the Web, and if you have it, you probably use it to search Google. It’s the default search engine in Firefox, Opera, and Safari, and the Firefox homepage has a gigantic Google search field. It’s no surprise that Internet Explorer’s default search engine is Windows Live Search–but it’s also completely understandable that Microsoft knew it had to let users change that default to Google if they so choose. In short, Google has fantastic distribution on the Web. And no matter how cool Cuil turns out to be, it’s going to be a long time before it’s the default search engine in anything.

9. Google is a household name, and your search-engine startup isn’t. Its name recognition is as close to 100 percent as is conceivably possible. It’s a verb, for crying out loud. Yes, Google itself proves that it’s possible to go from nowhere to omnipresence–when it launched in 1998, it was a nobody with a funny name competing against successful sites like Yahoo, AltaVista, HotBot, Lycos, and Excite. But it was a pretty clever funny name–if Sergey and Larry had kept with the original name of BackRub they might have been forced to go back to Stanford–and the sheer quality of the product sold it.

That’s a magic formula that’s happened since with other sites, such as Facebook. But if it happens again with search engines, it’ll be an unusual example of lightning striking twice. And it probably won’t happen with a search engine that has a name like Cuil, Powerset, or Wisenut.

10. Inertia. Everybody uses Google. And even if a clearly superior option came along today, it’s going to be a long, long time before Google’s market share suffers deep erosion. People are slow to change, even when it’s in their best interest to do so.

Which isn’t to say it won’t happen–like I say, Google entered what seemed to be a fairly mature field of search engines and changed everything by being better. And the Microsoft monopolies that seemed permanent–Windows, Office, Internet Explorer–all seem extremely vulnerable, even though none of them has completely crumbled yet.

Okay, enough rambling. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And let’s end this with a Silly Little Poll:

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Anonymous Tech Writer Says:

    The #1 dumbest thing on Earth to launch: A quill pen.

    The #2 dumbest thing on Earth to launch: A search engine.

    What a waste of time and effort. Only Google can kill Google, just like only Microsoft can kill Microsoft (and is doing a pretty good job of it with Vista and Office 2007).

  2. Sharon Says:

    Actually, there’s a whole O’Reilly book about Google Hacks, including two chapters on searching tips/tricks. (Computerworld did an excerpt from the book a few years ago, although the hack we picked involved Gmail, not the search engine).

    There are plenty of advanced things one can do to use Google that involve more than just typing a simple query into that home page box. The genius of Google is that most people don’t feel the need to have to dive into advanced features in order to get useful results, but advanced capabilities are there for those who are interested.

  3. Matt Says:

    I’d still like to see a search engine do better. Google isn’t perfect search.

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