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Loss of Google sends users scrambling

Call it Google panic: Users--and businesses--struggle when the search favorite becomes briefly unavailable.

After years of losing business to Google, search rivals got some of that traffic back on Monday as Internet surfers sought alternatives to the Web's most popular search engine.

While an Internet worm hampered Google, AltaVista and Lycos, other search engines attracted surfers looking for another source of answers. The worm also targeted Yahoo, though many who said they couldn't reach Google found Yahoo working.

The outage of Google, in particular, caught many off guard.

"It usually works so well that I don't need any other service," said Chris Pieper, a Baltimore-based software professional. "Today it wouldn't work at all."

"I have gotten so used to utilizing the embedded Google toolbar that it was a pain to have to actually launch a search engine first."
--Temporarily frustrated Google user Andrew Everett

Baylor University student Jason Wood was searching for information for a class discussion on failed product attempts over the past 25 years when Google returned an error message. Jonathan Bruce was in San Francisco trying to search for articles on the Democratic National Convention and Google's plans for a stock offering when he got the error message as well. Bruce, like many, was forced to seek other ways of finding the information.

Andrew Everett of Charlottesville, Va., was searching for information on cribs and strollers--his wife is pregnant. After failing with Google, he moved his search over to MSN. "I decided to try MSN, since they had so much recent press about new, improved search," Everett said. He added that the search worked fine, but said, "I have gotten so used to utilizing the embedded Google toolbar that it was a pain to have to actually launch a search engine first."

It's too soon to say how many people looked elsewhere, ComScore analyst Graham Mudd said. On the average day, Google is the undisputed search king. It accounted for 37 percent of U.S.-based queries in May--1.4 billion searches. Yahoo is second with a 26.6 percent share, and Microsoft's MSN search had 14.5 percent of the market, according to ComScore.

Businesses left in the lurch
Meta Group Vice President Tim Hickernell said the outage shows the value of having more than one engine and the importance, especially for businesses, of not relying on a single search engine.

"Certainly it supports the concept of differentiation and having multiple players in the market to choose from," Hickernell said, adding that the outage is a reminder to companies that have integrated Google searches as a part of their business applications. "Just because you are used to using Google and Yahoo as a consumer doesn't mean that writing business applications that query those services is a good idea."

The Google problems also had a trickle-down effect on the many of the Web-based businesses that rely on the search engine for much of their traffic.

"I know people today who sent their shipping departments home early because 70 percent of their traffic is from Google," said Chris Winfield, president of 10e20, a firm that helps companies market via search engines. "It's a big wake-up call."

While smaller engines may get some boost in visits, Winfield noted that many of Google's rivals don't have the dollars to compete. "The big winner of this is Microsoft. They weren't affected at all."

Winfield says he thinks clients will be more willing to hear advice that they not put all of their marketing dollars behind one search engine.

"So many of our clients, its just 'Google, Google, Google'. That's all they care about, but you can't put all of your eggs in one basket."

Bad timing for Google
Many people also noted the irony that the outage comes as Google is looking to set the price for its initial stock offering. "Google can't be happy about the timing...maybe they'll have to price the IPO less than $135," Everett noted.

It is unclear, though, whether many consumers will turn away from Google.

" I've come to the realization that Google is mortal too."
--Temporarily frustrated Google user Jagan Athreya

Jagan Athreya, a senior product manager at a Silicon Valley-based enterprise software maker, has been using Google since 1999 and will probably continue relying on Google.

"But, with the Yahoo announcement of 100MB e-mail inbox and now the unavailability of the Google site, I've come to the realization that Google is mortal too," Athreya said.

However, others pointed out that even as customers searched for a rival, their first instinct was to use Google to do so, a sign of the engine's ubiquity.

"Someone was telling me how second-nature their Google toolbar has become," Winfield said. "As soon as this happened they went to 'alternative search engines' in their Google toolbar."