A Brief History of Google Killers

Fourteen companies that were supposed to do away with the Web's biggest brand. Some of which themselves no longer exist.

By  |  Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 1:47 am

Quaero

Quaero

What is it? A France-based consortium devoted to “developing multimedia and multilingual indexing and management tools for professional and general public applications such as the automatic analysis, classification, extraction and exploitation of information.”

Who called it a potential Google killer? Lots of folks, particularly after French President Jacques Chirac giddily talked about it as Europe’s answer to Google’s search dominance in January, 2006.

How’s it doing at killing Google? If it’s made any progress, it’s kept it remarkably hush-hush–the Quaero site has very little to say what it’s up to, and doesn’t even indicate that it plans to build a search engine.

Any lessons? The fact that someone likes the idea of you killing Google doesn’t mean that you will, or even that you intend to try.

Relona

RelonaWhat is it? The developer of an algorithm that can be used to refine results from other search engines such as Yahoo, helping them to understand tricky queries such as “business is business director” (Business is Business being a movie).

Who called it a potential Google Killer? Search Engine Lowdown, in a 2007 blog post.

How’s it doing at killing Google? As far as I know, it has yet to sign a deal to help power any major search engine.

Any lessons? No single technology is going to kill Google. Especially not a technology which isn’t yet in use.

Teoma

TeomaWhat was it? A search engine founded by Rutgers scientists in 2000, which aimed to help users find the best sites by determining how many other sites on the same topic linked to a site. It was acquired by Ask Jeeves…on September, 11th, 2001.

Who called it a potential Google killer? Plenty of reports. Like this one.

Did it kill Google? No, not by most definitions. Under the name ExpertRank, it did end up powering Ask Jeeves, both before and after that site changed its moniker to Ask.com. Net Applications says that Ask’s worldwide share of the search market is .92%, and shrinking. But Teoma cocreator Apostolos Gerasoulis did get to star in an Ask ad in 2006:

Any lessons? One that’s reflected in some other tales in this piece: You can’t kill Google by selling out to a larger company that’s itself unlikely to kill Google.

Twitter

TwitterWhat is it? The world’s hottest social network/microblogging platform.

Who called it a potential Google killer? The idea comes up all the time, especially now that the service has finally added search features and made them easy to get at.

How’s it doing at killing Google? I think the real-time Web is going to be a big deal, and Twitter is the best existing example of the power of the concept. At the moment, though, it’s not even entirely clear that Twitter has a business model in mind that will let it stick around for the long haul. Also, even a fabulously successful Twitter would tend to complement Google more than threaten it.

Any lessons? If you’re on the Web, and popular, people will start to talk about you killing Google.

Wikia Search

Wikia SearchWhat was it? Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ second act, a search engine whose results were hand-chosen by volunteers.

Who called it a potential Google Killer? Wales himself, when explaining Wikia Search, did so in part by explaining why Google was so bad. Any time a startup compares itself to Google, pundits will soon start talking about it killing Google.

Did it kill Google? No, no really. Wikia Search’s market share was never larger than teensy, and the reviews were lousy. In March, it shut down.

Any lessons? Yes. When you launch a startup, don’t criticize Google and say you’ve got a better way to do search. Deny that you’ve any intention whatsoever of competing with Google. Even if you do, in fact, hope to kill Google.

Wisenut

WisenutWhat is it? A search engine launched six days before 9/11, when Google was very, very popular but not quite the Web behemoth it would later become.

Who called it a potential Google Killer? Actually, all the reports on WiseNut that I can find that use the phrase “Google Killer” scoff at the idea that it might be one. But they say that others took the notion seriously.

How’s it doing at killing Google? Not all that great. In 2002, a few months after its debut, it was bought by LookSmart (a search engine that nobody has ever called a Google Killer). In 2007, LookSmart shut it down. Today, WiseNut claims to be a “world leading search solution provider,” but it’s headquartered in Korea, and it’s tough to kill Google from such a distance.

Any lessons? You can’t really kill Google and languish in obscurity at the same time.

Wolfram|Alpha

Wolfram|Alpha LogoWhat is it? A really interesting research tool which attempts to provide answers to your queries rather than links to other pages that might contain answers.

Who called it a potential Google killer? Nova Spivack’s much-read blog post from March on Alpha specifically said that it wasn’t a Google killer. Somehow, that led to other bloggers speculating that it could be one. Which led to other bloggers completing the loop by once again denying that it was a Google killer.

How’s it doing at killing Google? Hey, give it some time–it only opened to the public Friday night!

Any lessons? I agree with Nova–Alpha is potentially a big deal, but it’s not a Google killer. Actually, trying to force-fit it into the Google-killer mold is giving short shrift to something that’s worthwhile in ways that a mere Google rival would not be.

Can I end with two predictions? One day, a Web company will indeed kill Google–if killing Google consists of displacing it as the most powerful company on the Web. I’m not guessing when that will happen. But I hereby predict that when Google is killed, it’ll be by a company that doesn’t exist as I write these words…

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13 Comments For This Post

  1. mike Says:

    You forgot Accoona.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    Yeah, I could have gone on–maybe I’ll do a sequel with Accoona, Hakia, MyLiveSearch, Kosmix, and others…

    –Harry

  3. stelabouras Says:

    Wolfram|Alpha is clearly not a ‘Google killer’ because it cannot be classified as a search engine.

    Wolfram’s new service is a powerful computational knowledge engine and lots of people fail to realize that -unfortunately- due to their strange need to compare irrelevant stuff.

  4. venkat Says:

    Wolfrma alpha can not comes under search engine category it’s computational knoiwledge engine whihc uses it inbuilt algorithms and data to compute single answer to a input.It is not a google killer nor replacement for google.

  5. Schmoo Says:

    Facebook? Why? Either that’s an erroneous entry or you have a few thousand omissions in the shape of every other popular site that has nothing to do with search.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    @Schmoo–As I say at the start of the story, people have recently been using the term “Google Killer” to refer to sites that aren’t search engines. (Makes sense to me, at least sort of–Google, after all, is about a lot more than search these days.) None of the sites on the list are there because I decree them to be Google Killers; they’re there because others have called them Google Killers. And multiple people have used the term in referring to Facebook.

    –Harry

  7. David Gerard Says:

    “Wolfram|Alpha is clearly not a ‘Google killer’ because it” … doesn’t work.

  8. wq Says:

    I think it’s the alltheweb guys (or at least its legacy) that powers Yahoo search today.

  9. Esteban Says:

    According to BrainBoost, Dallas has a population of zero, making it even smaller than San Diego.

  10. Tobias Says:

    Google will stay for some longer time – just have this feeling that this Giant isnt that easy to “kill” 😉

  11. Josh Catone Says:

    To be fair, I didn’t exactly call Facebook a “Google Killer” — it was really just a case of provocative headline writing. The post you linked to posed the question of whether the (at the time recently launched) targeted Facebook do-it-yourself text ad product could be a Google /AdSense/ killer.

    My conclusion was: no, not really, but I thought it might have AdSense-level success for Facebook, on Facebook (i.e., it could become a cash cow). Clearly so far nothing has borne that prediction out. 😉

    Though, I do think that properly targeted ads on Facebook (i.e., relevantly targeting people who have expressed via the content they create on the site and their profile info interest in specific niches) could be a pretty successful form of advertising if implemented right, and even better if Facebook ever let those ads out onto Connect-powered sites.

  12. timbo!! Says:

    google killer..please..let’s not lie to one another..if google profiles is marketed and launched better than orkut – we could be looking at a facebook killer

  13. wiredless Says:

    Why kill it if it has poisoned itself?

    Terms & Conditions of Google’s contract says in Paragraph 2.3 says ” You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google.

    I can only guess the number but my sense is that 500 million users of Google are under legal contract age – many schools and many, many homes in the world likely default to Google’s search. That means Google is illegally serving up its services. That means its advertising rates are inflated due to metrics arrived at illegally. Therefore rates are fraudulent. It also means that if Google turns a blind eye to the terms and conditions in its “contract”, it may not be able to enforce the other T’s & C’s regardless of their severability clause. Therefore, the US Department of Justice needs to step in and restrict Google’s indiscriminate proliferation of its content. Google must find ways to deliver its services only to those who can use it. If it is not legally allowed (by virtue of its own terms and conditions) to deliver search to all, and has done so without regard to its own agreement, others will have opportunity to create niche markets for those Google CANNOT service.

    This is the secondary level “Google Killer” I envision. I have a more potent one that is currently proprietary and in development. Each “killer” listed so far has taken Google to task on the concept of search. Wrong approach: completely.

    Ltr.

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