Thursday, April 05, 2007

For search startups the real barrier to entry is the index

I was drawing up a brief document for my CEO yesterday around search, the developing technologies and the startups in the space. What caught my attention was the number of starts calling themselves "Google-Killers". It took me a while to put my finger on it but I just didn't agree no matter how cool/ground breaking/esoteric their technology was.

Why don't I see these companies such as Powerset or Hakia as "google-killers"? Index. The simple fact is that unless the company has an index that is significant percentage of the Google or Yahoo or Microsoft search index's they can't compete. Early on the size of the web was such that a new search engine could easily develop a useable index. Now it is orders of magnitude harder to not only develop the index but also make it fast, reliable and generally useful.

There is a way to mitigate this barrier to entry and that is to pick a vertical and index that. Indexing a vertical is a much easier that trying to index usable portion of the internet. Given the nature of the technologies that Powerset, Hakia et al are deploying I think health (which is also relatively open and new) would be good fit for them.

[I had included Yedda as a Google-Killer but as Yaniv Golan pointed out in the comments, Yedda is along the lines of Yahoo Answers with knowledge ranking.]

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2 comments:

Yaniv Golan said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Simon. I have to say though, over here at Yedda we don't see ourselves as "Google Killers", or anyone killers as a matter of fact.

We offer an alternative way to find knowledge - one that in some cases makes more sense then typing a query into the Google search box. In other cases, it makes more sense to use Google.

For example, if you're after a company's web site, or a well known fact, or if you'd like to immerse yourself in lots of references to a specific topic, Google works great.

If you're looking for personal knowledge though, or a hard to find fact, Yedda might be a better way to find it.

You see, the thing about Yedda is that it doesn't search pages. It "searches" people - we go from one person to the next one, finding the ones who might be able to provide the answer to your question (based on their profile information), and invite them to answer it. And we keep doing that until you get the answer you're looking for.

That's a very different experience from the Google experience.

I still go to Google when I want to find blog posts about Yedda, or the price of a quote, or a specific page which I may remember certain words from - but for the harder questions, it's Yedda I turn it.

Simon Cast said...

Yaniv,

From your comment Yedda is indeed quite different beast to other search engines. I've modified the original post to correct it :)

Going on your description it sounds like your biggest hurdle is "indexing" enough people with reasonable knowledge. This leaves Yahoo Answers as you biggest competitor. Without asking you to give away your numbers, do you feel that you have reduced critical mass and or well on the way to reaching critical mass?

I can see a strong opportunity for micro-chunked consulting using Yedda as the platform. Yedda reduces the friction in finding someone to do a chunk of consulting.

Which leads to questions about confirming experience/capability and maintaining reputation. Is this the direction that you are going?