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Commentary: King Google eyes usurpers

Even if Teoma and Wisenut--two companies challenging the search engine's reign--don't succeed in dethroning Google, it's a safe bet that someone eventually will.

By Whit Andrews and Jackie Fenn, Gartner Analysts

How much would you pay to perform an Internet search?

Ask most people this question, and they'll respond indignantly: "Pay to search the Net? No way! It's free!"

Like so many things connected with the Internet, the availability of a variety of free search engines helps people forget the complexity, sophistication and cost of the technology that underlies them. It also encourages the average person to be somewhat fickle in using search engines. There's little brand loyalty here. If you hear about an engine that is faster and produces better results than the one you're now using, it costs you nothing to try it.

Consequently, the search engine business has become something of a king-of-the-hill game with a succession of royalty. The question for search engine companies has become whether they can create a feasible business model before being knocked off the throne. AltaVista, for example, though it invested heavily in technology, did not succeed in transforming its technological leadership into general portal status.

At the top of the heap is Google, and, predictably, it is being challenged--by upstarts Teoma and Wisenut. Either challenge may prove successful. And, even if neither company succeeds in dethroning Google, it's a safe bet that someone eventually will.

See news story:
Search start-ups seek Google's throne
The question for Google is whether it can exploit its present status as search engine leader and devise a long-term, profitable business model. If Google has a plan to become something other than a search engine, it has kept quiet about it, at least when talking to the public. But that doesn't mean Google isn't considering its future in talks with its venture capitalists.

From an intellectual point of view, search technology is among the more interesting problems connected to the Internet, and it has attracted the attention of some first-rate minds. However, as any student of business knows, history is rife with examples of superior technologies that were beaten in the marketplace by inferior ones. Many variables--marketing, timing, fashion and plain-old dumb luck--contribute to the success of any product, and Internet search engines are no exception.

(For a related commentary on consolidation in the site-search market, see

Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.