I recently found out at TechCrunch the at the third place leader in online search has officially called it quits and is exiting the search market.  According to the Alexia at TC, “Search is an almost impossible business to get into, with Google controlling around 66% of the market and Microsoft controlling another 27.9%”.

Impossible?

First and foremost, I really don’t think any market is impossible to break into when it comes to tech.  How many times have we seen deeply entrenched market leaders fall to the wayside and replaced with a young and agile start-up that is simply better at addressing user concerns?  You remember Lotus Notes?  You remember Hotmail?  Remember the original Macintosh?  And maybe this is my blind optimism as I one day hope to make it big with my own start-up, but there is no industry or market (in high tech) that is impenetrable to new entrants.

But … there are companies that make it hard.

As much crap as I and many many others give Microsoft, you can’t help but admire them.  They have managed to keep their hold on the operating system market.  Even with the beautifully engineered and well hyped Mac OS X, and the 100% free (as in Free Beer) Linux operating system, Microsoft hasn’t gone down yet.  They have maintained a significant market share (well above 50%) for decades.  And it’s not that the market place is so hard to break into … there are plenty of new entrants.  And these new entrants of often successes in their own rights.  They dominate an industry, are profitable, and provide significant utility.  But at the end of the day … it’s not the market that is so hard to break into … it’s that it’s hard to usurp Microsoft.  And while a lot of people (myself included for many years) will simply say that Microsoft just bullies everyone else out the market, that argument only holds up for so longs.  As much as I hate to admit it (kind of), Microsoft is very capable as a software company.  They have several major missteps, could use a lot more innovation, and sometimes feel stale … but Windows 7 isn’t bad.  People loved XP.  They actually aren’t making bad stuff.

Back to search …

The problem here isn’t the search marketplace.  There is a lot of innovation and advancements that can and will be made in the search marketplace.  There are still opportunities for a company (whether a new start-up or an established player) to come and change things in a big way.  But … that might not be happening.  Simply stated, the one reason search is so hard is because … Google is too good.

Yes … Google is really just that good.

Google still amazes me by the fact they have remained to keep their innovativeness and “weirdness” although they are starting to mature into “Old Tech”.  I got my first chance to visit the Googleplex this weekend, and I must say that I was impressed.  It wasn’t the crazy circus that I expected, but it seems to be a whole culture of innovation, of experimentation, and of racing forward to some goal that no one actually can see.  Basically, they are obsessed with staying at the edge of what is new and good.  They also are very good at focusing on the user, which is clutch nowadays.

Even with all that said, Microsoft and Bing has been grabbing market share.  And as we all know, competition is healthy.  I don’t think Google is giving up the crown, but if they ever start getting lazy then someone will come up quickly to grab it.

So … What is the deal with search?

Google has it covered.  They continue to outpace and out innovate the competition, and until someone comes along with some significant improvement to the core search experience that Google can’t respond to, then I don’t see things changing.  I am sad to see ask.com go, because lack of competition is the easiest way to convince Google they can get lazy, but I think there are enough smart and ambitious people trying to carve out their chunk of the $20 Billion industry that is search to keep the big G on their toes.

– Damien Peters