Search Engine X Too Powerful. Just Open Source It?

    January 2, 2007

Skrenta explains what many of you already grasped about Google’s growing power.

A commenter on Melanie’s post at Battelle’s blog comes up with this solution:

Time for an “open source” search engine without ads and with public algos. Maybe Blake Ross can get that going.

Ahem, can anyone else see a problem with this? A teeny tiny crack in the logic? Something we might refer to as adversarial indexing? The existence of black hats?

The ODP (Skrenta’s co-creation) was one attempt to open-source search and navigation. So-called social search and collaborative filtering are another, but like anything else with open-source roots, (a) it can be made proprietary and thus doesn’t necessarily get around the power problem; (b) it doesn’t allow it to compete any better with the current leader unless everyone decides to use it, and unless a powerful enough coalition agrees that one set of open-source standards are *the* set of open-source standards worth adhering to. That a large manufacturer got an unfair advantage in, say, toilet paper or razor blades, wouldn’t mean we’d be raring to embrace “open source personal hygiene.”

That said, coming at the end of 2006, the announcement that the Wikipedia founder would launch a search engine to challenge Google might rank as the biggest announcement of last year in search, if your criteria for “biggest” include “what newcomer has any chance of being the next Google”. Even a 1% chance.

Particularly interesting about the Wikiasari project is that it’s partly funded by along with other Silicon Valley financiers. (Remember A9 going nowhere? You can’t compete halfheartedly with Google, it’s all or nothing.). This one means business. So much for “co-opetition”?

What makes or breaks a new entrant into the space is not what “ought to be” but what gets massive uptake from users. And that comes from momentum and then monopolistic lock-in practices. For all of the reasons Skrenta outlined, even a great team like Wikiasari’s will face an incredible uphill battle (as Teoma/Ask did) before achieving breakout. Good job on the Simpsons quote at the end of your post, Rich. :)



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Andrew Goodman is Principal of Page Zero Media, a marketing consultancy which focuses on maximizing clients’ paid search marketing campaigns.

In 1999 Andrew co-founded, an acclaimed “guide to portals” which foresaw the rise of trends such as paid search and semantic analysis.