Investing in a search engine business

Yesterday, a colleague and I discussed whether a) there were investment opportunities in search engine businesses, given the default answer for most people was google b) how such businesses could quickly demonstrate value over google search.

This followed two recent but separate conversations about "Google is the internet!" for many and how many sites see that people have navigated to them via Google, but have done so by typing the full web address into the search box in google - they don't realise there is an address bar for this.

Well, there's no shortage of search engines as this list below from Read/Write Web today demonstrates, although it's by no means exhaustive! As the post states, search engines have to demonstrate some superior characteristics to google - not beat it hands down, but be better in some respect.

The Top 100 Alternative Search Engine List for February 2007

This list is also available in Excel format. The search engine that keeps on looking.
Ask Mobile Mobile search engine from
ASK VOX A second talking female user interface.
AnswerBus Ask in English, French, Spanish, German or Italian.
Blabline Podcast / videocast search engine
blinkx Video Search
boing Search the Mobile web Searches for posts related to your keywords.
ChaCha Human Guides are available to aid in your search.
ClipBlast! Video Search
Clusty Clustering search engine
collarity Behavioral personalized search / Collarity Compass
CONGOO Searches for Premium Content
crossEngine Searches Search Engines; formerly mrSAPO
d e c i p h o Behavioral personalized search / Social Meter
Ditto Visual search engine
Dogpile MetaSearch Engine
dumbfind Featuring the Two-Box search method.
exalead Web / Image search with a European flavor
factbites Search Result snippets are complete sentences.
fazzle Search engine that emphasizes Boolean Search
filangy Personalized Search Engine
FIND FORWARD Multi-featured search engine; check this one out!
FindSounds Search for sound effects and musical samples.
FyberSearch Parent site for some interesting new search engines.
GIGABLAST A multi-featured search engine.
girafa Visual search engine - results are thumbnails
gnod Oustanding recommendation search engines
gnosh Metasearch engine
GoLexa "COMPLETE page analysis for each result."
goshme Beta 3.0 A search engine for search engines. Top 10 pick.
GoYams Metasearch engine where you select the mix.
grokker A multi-featured meta-search engine.
GRUUVE Groovy music recommendation search engine.
hakia "Meaning based" search engine
ICEROCKET Blog search engine
ixquick Metasearch engine
KartOO Visually appealling clustering search engine
Lexxe Natural language processing (NLP) search engine
like Visual shopping engine; see also riya
liveplasma Attractive music / movies clustering / recommendation engine Search for local businesses, products, and services
lurpo Searches for custom Google search engines
mamma metasearch engine
MetaGlossary Searches for definitions, phrases and acronyms.
mnemomap Clustering search engine
Mojeek Customize your own personal search engine.
Mooter Clustering search engine
mrquery Metasearch engine / metasearch providers
MS. DEWEY Unique user interface - enough said.
Omgili Social community search engine
onkosh Arabic / English Search Engine
Pagebull Visual results search engine
pipl People search engine
PlanetSearch Metasearch engine
PolyMeta Metasearch and clustering search engine Metasearch engine
qksearch Multi-featured "3-in-1" multi-search engine
Quintura Clustering search engine with a new interface
Quintura for kids Search engine for kids by Quintura
RedZee Search Engine with nice preview results
retrievr Visual search engine
riya Visual search engine; see also Like
scirus Scientific information only search engine
searchbots Have a little fun, create your own searchbot.
SearchTheWeb2 Search The Popular Head and The Long Tail
sidekiq Multi-category search engine. Very nice.
Slideshow Displays search results as a moving slideshow.
Slifter A mobile shopping search engine.
soople A simplified version of Google's search options.
Speegle The speeglebot talks to you.
Sphere A blog search engine.
Sproose Social search engine
S R C H R Metasearch engine
SurfWax Meaning-based search engine
Swamii Search engine that keeps on searching for you.
Swoogle Semantic Web search engine Shopping search engine
Trexy Follow "trails" and "trailblazers" with Trexy.
turboscout Metasearch engine
TWERQ Multi-category search engine with tabbed results.
UJIKO A fun interface where you can vote on the results. "Search with many" community metasearch engine. Vote on the search results with emoticons.
WASALive A new member of the list.
Web 2.0 Web 2.0 search engines
WEBBRAIN Clustering "see the web" search engine.
whonu? Deluxe metasearch engine.
WIKIO "Live information from 33981 media and blogs"
Windows Live Mobile Windows Live Mobile search engine
WiseNut Clustering search engine
Yahoo! Mobile Yahoo! Mobile search engine
Yahoo! MINDSET Intention-driven search; commercial versus research
yoono People-rated community web search
yoople Yoople! = Yahoo! + Google + People
yubnub Use command lines to search the web.
ZABASEARCH People and Public Information Search Engine.
zapmeta Metasearch engine
Zippy Search engine for webmasters
ZUULA Multi-category, multi-search engine, with good tabs.

Personally I get daunted by a search engine that returns 198,000 results, because that is simply unusable and I know I'll get bored after the first 12 entries or so. Sure, it may mean that my search terms are too imprecise, but it's frequently the case that I'm not entirely sure what the "magic code" is that will unlock the narrower set of results I want.

In this regard, services such as quintura and grokker appeal to me because they summarise recurring terms found in the results. From this, I can improve my search terms or simply navigate to those clusters with terms that more closely approximate to what I think will be the "magic code".

But perhaps I should choose a vertical search engine for my search. Ok, but which one is best suited to the particular search I am doing? Even skipping through the list above takes some doing.

I do find it interesting that, on many occasions, the top results returned for a search are actually vertical search engines. Hence, google acts as a stepping point into the vertical search engine. Simple example being when looking for insurance companies from whom to get home insurance quotes, google leads me off to services like [disclosure: one of my closest friends is the CFO there - that's just to highlight bias in referring to them, not simply to show off as to how well connected I am].

Our expectations keep moving as our experiences inform us about what is commodity and what is also possible. In turn, the user base is fragmenting at an faster rate as our experiences of both vary. My parents, who do use the web, would never think of looking for something other than google, but whilst they represent the mass market, I believe that there is an increasing market for better search that cuts out the "noise" and that people will also begin to place a value on this that may translate into "paid for" services. If my time has a value, something that increases my efficiency should be worth paying for, which indicates that investment opportunities should exist. Hard bit is finding the right ones. Guess I'd better google for them.

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posted by John Wilson @ 9:23 AM Permanent Link newsvine reddit


At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article, do you guys find that there are any specific search engines that could be interested in competing on more focused markets such as the Middle East? I think this is a direction some engines should take, and possibly enhance their Arabic search capabilities accordingly...

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Mike Bygrave said...

As a co-founder of a start-up vertical search engine ( - currently in beta, in case you're interested), I'd wholeheartedly agree with your point about Google becoming a bridge between a search term and a vertical search engine.

In our experience, the light at the end of the tunnel for both us (obviously) and - more importantly - our users, is to be able to type a single search term into Google, and then get straight into a vertical search engine that will really be able to help. If you can do that, then your users are two-clicks away from a tightly focused resource that should cover their needs. The alternative is the multi-click approach involved in googling a term, then refining that search two, three or four times until you get somewhere useful (if you're lucky).

At 3:49 PM, Blogger John Wilson said...

Hi Anonymous(!)

I don't of any specific engines targeted the Middle East but I can imagine a number of the search engine companies would be very interested in creating sub-sets of their search to satisfy specific markets (geographic, sector, language).


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