The Company That Could Destroy Google?

The knock on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is simple. It goes like this:

  1. Come on, guys, it's just search.
  2. Search technology is in its infancy and will be transformed by upstarts that will wipe out any competitive advantage Google thought it had.

Point two is more worrisome, isn't it? It should be. For years, Tim Berners-Lee, a computer science professor who created the World Wide Web as we know it today, has pitched the idea of a "semantic Web" in which data is organized by meaning rather than by content.

I've long believed that the semantic Web poses a huge threat to Google. Thus, the answer to my headline isn't Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) -- although an increasingly hard-boiled (yet creepy) Mr. Softy is getting more dangerous by the day -- but rather a far-off start-up whose sole purpose will be to make your classic Google search obsolete.

How far?
Or maybe not that far off. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) got a brain boost in February. Privately held Radar Networks has Twine, which combines search and social networking in the quest for meaning. Baby Breaker Daylife aggregates news and images by topic. All three have taken semantic Web-related steps.

Yet none of these has captured the attention that Powerset has. And for good reason: The start-up recently unveiled an algorithm for searching Wikipedia in plain English. With it, I challenged Google to a head-to-head search-off. The results show Google in need of work but, on the whole, surprisingly resilient.

For example, a search for "paintings of Salvador Dali" at Powerset returns both biographical pages and an elegant array of images depicting Dali's work. A similar Google search lacks the image catalog -- unless you click over to "Google Images" -- but it does bring up the Wikipedia page.

Nevertheless, I found Powerset's results to be richer and better organized. Key words and phrases are highlighted on page results and then organized with sidebar tools called "Outline" and "Factz." 

But is this technology really as disruptive as it seems? It would be if Google were doing nothing to improve its search technology. But a trip to Google Labs and its experimental search tool proves that's not the case.

Performing the Dali query using the experimental search yielded rich views. An "info view" set to show images was at least equal to what Powerset displayed. A "timeline" view provided a decent chronology of Dali's life and work.

My point? Right now, Powerset exceeds Google's primary search engine in richness of results, in my opinion -- but only for the limited subset of data it provides, and even then, not by much.

Not exactly a one-trick pony
The bottom line is that Google's search is improving even as upstarts and peers try to exploit its weaknesses.

Not that users are, um, searching for alternatives. Google's share of the search market rose to 67.9% in April, up from 65.26% a year ago, researcher Hitwise reports. No. 2 Yahoo! fell to 20.28%, and Microsoft's MSN sank to 6.26%. Of the top four, only Google and IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI  ) Ask.com gained share.

No wonder my Foolish colleague Rick Munarriz thinks Yahoo! is doomed. I do, too.

Not Google, though. Where others see a one-trick pony, I see a stable of thoroughbreds tied together by the search engine and by a singular idea: to organize the world's information.

Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube are the obvious tools. But there's also Google Notebook, a digital organizer that collects notes and Web links as well as anything else I've ever used; Blogger, for musings; Calendar, for everything on your to-do list; Reader, for your RSS feeds; Docs, for most of what Microsoft Office provides, yet for free; and so on.

These products matter because the job of "organizing the world's information" can't be achieved simply through search. Users know that, too. DoubleGoo surpassed Yahoo! as the most-visited Web property in April, when its U.S. audience grew by 18% year over year, according to researcher comScore. You don't really think a marginal increase in search-market share explains that rise, do you? I don't, either.

Let's give search and the semantic Web their due. Both are important, and Powerset deserves kudos for moving the needle. But more and more users are turning to Google's tools for an increasing number of tasks. It's going to take a lot more than a fancy Wikipedia search to reverse that.

Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Try out our market-beating, value-seeking service free for 30 days. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers also writes for Rule Breakers. He had no positions in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. The Motley Fool has a market-beating disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 22, 2008, at 8:39 AM, thekohser wrote:

    As Powerset seeks to challenge Google with semantic web features, so does MyWikiBiz.com seek to challenge Wikipedia.

    You see on Wikipedia, you might see handfuls of Categories to classify articles about aviation disasters. Goofy categories like:

    Accidents and incidents on commercial airliners in the United States

    Accidents and incidents on commercial airliners in Florida

    Accidents and incidents on commercial airliners in Kentucky

    Airliner crashes caused by instrument failure

    Airliner crashes caused by pilot error

    Aviation accidents and incidents in 1972

    Aviation accidents and incidents in 1989

    Frankly, MyWikiBiz thinks this sort of "category creep" is maddening.

    Wouldn't the user interested in airliner accidents be much better served by something like this:

    http://tinyurl.com/3els8m

    MyWikiBiz also allows articles about any person, any business. There are no notability threshold arguments tying up the site, as on Wikipedia.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 648472, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/21/2014 10:08:57 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement