Search Engines – The Battle for Playground Supremacy

by Matthew Diehl on July 28, 2010

As children, the playground was a place of fun and adventure where the games played with the other kids on the apparatus tested you physically and mentally.

The playground that is the search engine industry has seen many children come to test there skills against others. How long could they remain competitive against the others? The challenges of the industry tested those with a keen intellect and the physical dominance that an 8th grade child would have over a 3rd grader.

As the number of market leading search engines continues to dwindle, with Yahoo stepping down, lets take a look at how the playground tested the search engines:

Merry Go Round

The merry go round is a physical test of strength and stability. It is most fun when there is a larger group of children.

For the search engines this signifies the early years when there were many still in contention for a growing user base of searchers. As the Internet was growing, more search engines jumped on the merry go round to test themselves against the many that were already there. Only the search engines that could “hold on” as the market gained speed with external, centripetal forces building against them would remain from being thrown from the ride.

Additionally, those search engines that filled up early with the snack & goodies at the Dot-Com Snack Shack would find their bubbles would soon burst. As the merry go round spun faster and faster these search engines would become sick and be forced to retire from the ride.

When the merry go round is finished spinning, the weakest and unstable would have been weeded-out leaving a smaller, worthy group.

Search engines still in this group include the likes of Google, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Ask Jeeves, Inktomi.

Swings

Even though they are individually fueled, the swings pose a mental challenge both externally and internally. How high can I go and can I go higher than the other children? Due to the limited number of seats on the swing set this is a suitable next challenge for the children who survived the merry go round.

For the search engines that made it this far, this is where they began the process of pushing their engineers to strive to achieve greater heights. The steps to improve the results so that the most relevant websites would move to the top, declaring they had achieved a pinnacle height greater than the others.

These new relevancy heights were achieved through mental gains but ultimately fueled by the legs that kept the swing in motion. The legs for the search engines came down to developing an actual business model, where they could build revenue to bring in more of the best and brightest to continually improve their relevancy heights.

The search engines that do not make it past the swings were those that could not get their legs under them and develop an actual business, leaving them penniless, talentless and unable to compete for relevancy supremacy. The swings thin out the group of search engines to those with a strong foundation and the smarts to back it up.

After the swings the search engines that survive are Google, Yahoo, MSN/Live and Ask

Monkey Bars

The monkey bars are an apparent strength challenge but children add the mental component of not wanting to plummet into a fiery pit of doom. The monkey bars are a challenge to the late comers to the playground who missed out on the fun had earlier on the merry go round.

From a search engine perspective the monkey bars are designed to test those like Cuil. Touted as the “Google Killer”, they had to first prove themselves in the field. To prepare themselves mentally they can benefited from learnings that have already been discovered by the other search engines as well as the proven business model allowed for the ease of acquisition of funding to build their strength. Now, all that is left is to launch themselves forward, holding tightly to the bars, hanging and hoping that they can make it across the perilous boiling lava below to prove their worthiness to move on.

Alas, not many make it across the monkey bars. They find their grip slipping, and many plunge to their doom. However, there are those that use their extra lives to return to the begining and try the dangerous cross again.

Those that survive the monkey bars are far and few between but more often bring something different to the table like WolframAlpha. For now, others are stuck there, like Cuil, who try and try and try…

Teeter Totter

The teeter totter is an interesting apparatus on the playground. On the teeter totter an evenly matched pair of children will have a never ending thrill ride of ups and downs until one of them just gives up. While the teeter totter is “won” by those children than bring a weight advantage.

For the search engines the teeter totters represent the battle to gain market share. The larger the market share that you can acquire the longer you can leave your competition standed off the ground, legs spinning and looking for help.

This really brings us up to modern day with the search engine industry. Google is the fat kid, or maybe they are just big boned, and they are sitting on one side of the teeter totter. Now, place any other search engine on the other side of the teeter totter and, alone, they will be left stranded there. This unfair advantage does not go unnoticed on the playground, soon other search engines will come to aid the ones that are stranded. We saw this happen with the search alliance between Yahoo and Bing to combat the girth that Google has acquired in the US market.

The interesting thing about the teeter totter in the search engine industry is that weight doesn’t work like in the real world. Market share varies as Bing continues to grow by improving features, relevancy and creating partnerships we begin to see more and more of the weight shifting to their side of the teeter totter.

This is a final struggle between Google and Bing, one fat kid against another.

King of the Castle

King of the castle is the end game on the playground. One child will reign supreme over the other children and will often setup camp in a near impregnable fortress at at the tallest peak. Here they can easily thwart attacks and send children headfirst down a spiraling slide.

King of the castle in the search industry has not yet happened. Who will win the power struggle to reign supreme over the playground? Google? Bing? or a challenger from the monkey bars?

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