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Is Google unassailable? If so, Why are VCs chasing search? January 5, 2007

Posted by ravimhatre in Consumer internet, Search, startups, Venture Capital.

Several recent articles (NYT, Richard MacManus, etc) on next generation search and the questionable wisdom of backing businesses with a mission to displace some or all of Google’s current market domain caused us to do some of our own reflection.

Not only is Google tremendously good at what they do, in less than 10 years they’ve established a consumer brand with iconography to rival the likes of Nike’s famed athletic swoosh or Coca Cola’s signature “wave” heralding the onset of good times. Google’s navigational search delivers tremendous value when consumers know what they are looking for. Its unlikely we’ll witness the demise of this offering anytime soon.

However, there are many instances where a minimalist approach to search results simply can’t deliver what the user wants because the user doesnt know what he or she wants.

For example, I had a friend who recently contracted SSHL, a termporary hearing loss condition. I needed information. My search on Google yielded a hodgepodge of linear page results, most of which had nothing to do with the medical condition. My search on Kosmix (Lightspeed portfolio company), a category-based search engine, provided well organized, relevant results and suggested specific symptoms, treatments, medications, best hospitals, and other relevant directional tips to guide me through my discovery process. Similarly, when I was looking for post-holiday sales on Espresso Machines, I found Google’s answer to be virtually unintelligable versus the clean array of choices yielded by TheFind.

While Google has a dominant brand and will continue to be a “start-point” for many navigational searches, there are a variety situations where the answer to a user’s query doesn’t reside on the top page of links from a Google search results deck.

There in lies the opportunity. While there are challenges for start-ups in developing the right distribution channels and content syndication partnerships to scale up traffic and consumer mindshare, if the quality of vertical search experience can consistently create “aha” moments for the consumer it will yeild market opportunity.

As previous articles have noted, its not a matter of out-Googling, Google. More likely, it will be about identifying segments of search where consumers need more than a traditional page of linear result links to easily answer their information request. Over time, it doesn’t make that sense one size will fit all. Google may evolve and adapt to this segmented notion, but they will be required to learn the same lessons and develop similar alternative approaches to those of many start-ups that have already begun the process of search disaggregation.


1. Jeff Tokarz - January 6, 2007

Great post. Thank you for writing about vertical search, Google, and search results relevance.

No doubt, vertical search engines – given their silo-centric coverage – deliver improved search results. However, these nominally improved search results are marginalized when search engines are incapable of discerning what is ‘relevant’. Crawling, indexing and returning search results simply isn’t good enough. Vertical search engines must be capable of understanding the contextual and intended meaning of users’ search queries. The Just-Posted.com (http://www.Just-Posted.com) vertical job search engine is an example of what can be achieved when advanced technologies, such as natural language processing, latent semantic analysis, AI, Bayesian belief network, etc., are combined to analyze, filter, understand and deliver exceedingly relevant job search results.

Vertical search has the potential to significantly enhance the online search experience …. provided vertical search engines give searchers more of what they want and less of what they don’t want.

Go Vertical!

Jeff Tokarz
CEO & Founder

2. patent-monkey - January 7, 2007

Agree with Jeff here, focused search engines are very important and we’re doing the same in the patent search area (in private Beta) at http://www.patentmonkey.com.

Some fundamental questions come out of how defensible Google’s position is. Clearly they have a strong brand and cash flow, so their strength as an incumbent is important. That said, they were able to quickly grow using superior user tools to win over the market against other incumbents with similar attributes (e.g. Microsoft and Yahoo). Can others find these points of friction and improve upon them? Absolutely, we’ve seen the internet and the search market change hands quite a few times in the last ten years and my guess is that its not over.

3. Jud Valeski - February 17, 2007

The shotgun approach to search, e.g. Google, is actually really unfortunate. As if the data I want can always wind up on page one of a search results page. Vertical search wins in the end. I’d written about this very topic about a year ago at http://journals.aol.com/valeski/one/entries/2006/03/13/vertical-search-down-with-google/955

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