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.

AllTha.at www.allth.at The search engine that keeps on looking.
Ask Mobile www.m.ask.com Mobile search engine from Ask.com
ASK VOX www.askvox.com A second talking female user interface.
AnswerBus www.answerbus.com Ask in English, French, Spanish, German or Italian.
Blabline www.blabline.com Podcast / videocast search engine
blinkx www.blinkx.com Video Search
boing www.boing.mobi Search the Mobile web
bookmach.com www.bookmach.com Searches for posts related to your keywords.
ChaCha www.chacha.com Human Guides are available to aid in your search.
ClipBlast! www.clipblast.com Video Search
Clusty www.clusty.com Clustering search engine
collarity www.collarity.com Behavioral personalized search / Collarity Compass
CONGOO www.congoo.com Searches for Premium Content
crossEngine www.crossengine.com Searches Search Engines; formerly mrSAPO
d e c i p h o www.decipho.com Behavioral personalized search / Social Meter
Ditto www.ditto.com Visual search engine
Dogpile www.dogpile.com MetaSearch Engine
dumbfind www.dumbfind.com Featuring the Two-Box search method.
exalead www.exalead.com/search Web / Image search with a European flavor
factbites www.factbites.com Search Result snippets are complete sentences.
fazzle www.fazzle.com Search engine that emphasizes Boolean Search
filangy www.filangy.com Personalized Search Engine
FIND FORWARD www.findforward.com Multi-featured search engine; check this one out!
FindSounds www.findsounds.com Search for sound effects and musical samples.
FyberSearch www.fybersearch.com Parent site for some interesting new search engines.
GIGABLAST www.gigablast.com A multi-featured search engine.
girafa www.girafa.com Visual search engine – results are thumbnails
gnod www.gnod.net Oustanding recommendation search engines
gnosh www.gnosh.org Metasearch engine
GoLexa www.golexa.com “COMPLETE page analysis for each result.”
goshme Beta 3.0 www.goshme.com A search engine for search engines. Top 10 pick.
GoYams www.goyams.com Metasearch engine where you select the mix.
grokker www.grokker.com A multi-featured meta-search engine.
GRUUVE www.gruuve.com Groovy music recommendation search engine.
hakia www.hakia.com “Meaning based” search engine
ICEROCKET www.icerocket.com Blog search engine
ixquick www.ixquick.com Metasearch engine
KartOO www.kartoo.com Visually appealling clustering search engine
Lexxe www.lexxe.com Natural language processing (NLP) search engine
like www.like.com Visual shopping engine; see also riya
liveplasma www.liveplasma.com Attractive music / movies clustering / recommendation engine
Local.com www.local.com Search for local businesses, products, and services
lurpo www.lurpo.com Searches for custom Google search engines
mamma www.mamma.com metasearch engine
MetaGlossary www.metaglossary.com Searches for definitions, phrases and acronyms.
mnemomap www.mnemo.org Clustering search engine
Mojeek www.mojeek.com Customize your own personal search engine.
Mooter www.mooter.com Clustering search engine
mrquery www.mrquery.com Metasearch engine / metasearch providers
MS. DEWEY www.msdewey.com Unique user interface – enough said.
Omgili www.omgili.com Social community search engine
onkosh www.onkosh.com Arabic / English Search Engine
Pagebull www.pagebull.com Visual results search engine
pipl http://pipl.com People search engine
PlanetSearch www.planetsearch.com Metasearch engine
PolyMeta www.polymeta.com Metasearch and clustering search engine
pronto.com www.pronto.com Metasearch engine
qksearch www.qksearch.com Multi-featured “3-in-1” multi-search engine
Quintura www.quintura.com Clustering search engine with a new interface
Quintura for kids http://kids.quintura.com/ Search engine for kids by Quintura
RedZee www.redzee.com Search Engine with nice preview results
retrievr http://labs.systemone.at/retrievr/ Visual search engine
riya www.riya.com Visual search engine; see also Like
scirus http://scirus.com Scientific information only search engine
searchbots www.searchbots.net Have a little fun, create your own searchbot.
SearchTheWeb2 www.searchtheweb2.com Search The Popular Head and The Long Tail
sidekiq www.sidekiq.com Multi-category search engine. Very nice.
Slideshow http://slideshow.zmpgroup.com/ Displays search results as a moving slideshow.
Slifter www.slifter.com A mobile shopping search engine.
soople www.soople.com A simplified version of Google’s search options.
Speegle www.speegle.com The speeglebot talks to you.
Sphere www.sphere.com A blog search engine.
Sproose www.sproose.com Social search engine
S R C H R www.srchr.com Metasearch engine
SurfWax www.surfwax.com Meaning-based search engine
Swamii www.swamii.com Search engine that keeps on searching for you.
Swoogle http://swoogle.umbc.edu Semantic Web search engine
thefind.com www.thefind.com Shopping search engine
Trexy www.trexy.com Follow “trails” and “trailblazers” with Trexy.
turboscout www.turboscout.com Metasearch engine
TWERQ www.twerq.com Multi-category search engine with tabbed results.
UJIKO www.ujiko.com A fun interface where you can vote on the results.
url.com www.url.com “Search with many” community metasearch engine.
VMGO.com www.vmgo.com Vote on the search results with emoticons.
WASALive www.wasalive.com A new member of the list.
Web 2.0 www.web20searchengine.com Web 2.0 search engines
WEBBRAIN www.webbrain.com Clustering “see the web” search engine.
whonu? www.whonu.com Deluxe metasearch engine.
WIKIO www.wikio.com “Live information from 33981 media and blogs”
Windows Live Mobile www.wls.live.com Windows Live Mobile search engine
WiseNut www.wisenut.com Clustering search engine
Yahoo! Mobile http://m.yahoo.com Yahoo! Mobile search engine
Yahoo! MINDSET www.mindset.research.yahoo.com Intention-driven search; commercial versus research
yoono www.yoono.com People-rated community web search
yoople www.yoople.net Yoople! = Yahoo! + Google + People
yubnub www.yubnub.com Use command lines to search the web.
ZABASEARCH www.zabasearch.com People and Public Information Search Engine.
zapmeta www.zapmeta.com Metasearch engine
Zippy www.zippy.co.uk Search engine for webmasters
ZUULA www.zuula.com 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 moneysupermarket.com [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.

Comment posted by John Wilson
at 3/9/2007 9:49:00 AM
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).

Comment posted by Mike Bygrave
at 3/7/2007 5:06:00 AM
As a co-founder of a start-up vertical search engine (www.thewebstoobig.com/pr – 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).

Comment posted by Anonymous
at 2/28/2007 8:59:00 AM
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…

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