While trustbusters in the U.S. government debate whether to pursue an antitrust investigation, Google continues to pad its lead in domestic search.
Google accounted for just more than 71 percent of all U.S. searches during the four weeks ending August 28, according to Hitwise. By comparison, the next biggest companies in the sector included Yahoo with an 18.2 percent share, MSN at 5.3 percent and Ask with 3.5 percent.
It was obviously happenstance, but Hitwise issued its report just as dozens of tech start-ups, each one of them aching to emerge as the next Google, congregated at separate launch events. Maybe there is a diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered--or in this case making its elevator pitch in front of the crowds either at the Demo or TechCrunch forums.
I wonder what the attendees at both venues think about a possible government move against Google. After all, the company is only 10 years old, and it's already a candidate for getting hauled into court. If Uncle Sam actually sues--that's not to say it will win its case--antitrust arguments are hard to prove. What's more, there's a difference between the court pyrotechnics--the big show put on for the judge and jury--and the more nuanced complexities involved in sifting through thousands of pages of evidence. Oddly enough, we're nearing the exact anniversary of opening arguments in the Microsoft antitrust case, which began on October 19, 1998, in Washington's E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse.
All that fall and into the spring, I spent months sitting in the courthouse watching that drama unfold. In the end, however, I'm not really sure what got accomplished. Yes, the lawyers on both sides billed their clients a fortune. And it was fun watching David Boies turn sundry Microsoft witnesses into stuttering idiots. I still have my notebooks in which I kept tabs each time Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson nodded off like an amiable manatee.
But it was an unsatisfying denouement for all concerned. The government convinced the court to find Microsoft a predatory monopolist, but most of the decision got neutered by an appellate court. Microsoft claimed throughout that it never violated the law, but then agreed to rein in its behavior under court supervision. You can argue that Microsoft has never been the same since, though there obviously are myriad other reasons why it failed to dominate this decade the same way it dominated the 1990s.
The government has an obligation to step in to keep the playing field even. But if the Justice Department is mobilizing to battle Google, it better make sure that it's got a airtight case. Otherwise, it's going to be another fruitless exercise, one that also will leave disillusioned entrepreneurs wondering whether this is the inevitable reward for building a better mousetrap.