"THE Google brand has taken on a life of its own," concedes Jim Lanzone, the boss of Ask.com, the fourth-largest but fastest-growing search engine, and this simultaneously frustrates and delights him. It frustrates him because people say they "google" things even when they go to Ask or other engines to search the web; because Google is considered, for no good reason (in his opinion), "the safe choice under pressure"; and because many people "don't seem to want choice" and stick to Google out of mere inertia.
But it delights him, because Google, having made many enemies, must now fight many battles; and because Google, perhaps out of hubris, appears to be getting distracted. This month, for instance, Google unveiled a free online spreadsheet program, which, like many Google products, has little to do with web search and is meant to needle Microsoft, the world's largest software company, which has a near-monopoly on spreadsheets through Excel. Google, in other words, has impressive momentum, says Mr Lanzone, but a good martial-artist can use his opponent's momentum to overcome him, so "we're using search aikido."
In terms of momentum-mass times velocity-Google's lead indeed looks daunting. It has by far the most mass, with an American market share of 43% as of April, which reaches 50% counting AOL, an internet property that uses Google's search technology. This compares with 28% for Yahoo!; 13% for MSN, which belongs to Microsoft; and 6% for Ask, which is owned by IAC/Interactive Corp, a conglomerate of about 60 online media brands. Google also has velocity: its market share grew by 17% in the four quarters to this spring, whereas Yahoo! and MSN both lost share. Only Ask has more velocity-its share grew by 35%-but then again it has little mass.
News source: The Economist
There are also other, even smaller search engines, such as Clusty.com, a service that displays results in thematic bundles, and SNAP.com, an engine founded by Bill Gross, a pioneer in the industry. But because barriers to entry in the search business are high—the engineering talent is limited and data centres that can simultaneously support millions of searches are expensive—most analysts think that the four big search engines will stay ahead of the tiny ones. The industry is young and switching-costs for users are low (a click, in effect), so there is still the potential for a change in leadership among these four. The contest is fierce, because search results, which
display highly targeted advertisements, are the most lucrative pages on the internet.