In a piece I wrote called "3 Giant-Killers to Watch," I mentioned a few innovators that I thought could give some giants a run for their money. One of them was Wikipedia, which I thought might present unexpected competition to Google
Last January, I pointed out that while Google has a great brand in search, user-generated and user-edited Wikipedia gives Internet users another way to research specific information. Whenever I have a specific query, a lot of the time I find myself plugging into Wikipedia for definitions or information. (A recent example of a Wikipedia search spurred by moments of random curiosity and holiday cheer: fruitcake. Where did it come from, why is it popular for Christmas, and does anybody really like it?)
Reports on the Internet say that Jimmy Wales is planning to go one better than hoping Internet users will simply search on Wikipedia. Wales plans a search engine, code-named Wikiasari, which will launch in the first quarter of 2007 and will be open-source, utilizing users' editorial judgment on search queries. Given the popularity of the Wiki universe of products, one can imagine that not only Google, but also Yahoo!
Wikiasari would actually be part of Wikia, Wales' for-profit company, not to be confused with Wikipedia, which is nonprofit. (Wikia has gotten millions in venture-capital funding this year, including money from Amazon.com
I do believe Google's an innovative company that has certainly taken the lead in Internet search. However, the game's far from over. As I pointed out in a June article, "10 Things I Hate About Google" (as an investment, of course), there's question as to what the competitive moat is around search, Google's crown jewel. I have long wondered whether others might come in and provide a superior search product -- and maybe even one with far fewer privacy concerns than tend to surround Google.
There are great competitive risks that come with great success -- create a successful, high-profile, high-sales, high-margin company, and smart rivals are bound to come flooding in for a piece of the action. Whether Wikiasari might be the one that knocks Google off its perch remains to be seen, of course; just for starters, there are inherent problems with user-generated content, and Wikipedia has wrangled with such problems. Furthermore, Wales admits that given the user-centric element, it could be years before the product's really ready to do some damage in search. However, for anybody invested in companies that seek to profit off Internet search, I'd say Wikiasari will be a tremendously important development to watch.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.