Saturday, August 04, 2007

How An Unholy Alliance Could Topple Google

According to different stories, Wikipedia's founder is planning on giving Google a run for its money by building peer-to-peer applications to shoulder the load of search indexing.

Wales told a conference of software developers in Portland, Oregon, that his commercial start-up, Wikia, has acquired Grub, a pioneering Web crawler that will enable Wikia's forthcoming search service to scour the Web to index relevant sites.

"If we can get good quality search results, I think it will really change the balance of power from the search companies back to the publishers," said Wales, chairman of San Mateo, California-based Wikia. "I could be wrong about this, but it seems like a likely outcome."

Swell. The problem-- there's no reason to do it. Google is powerful because everyone wants a search engine. Wikipedia is powerful because everyone wants a free encylcopedia. Nobody but a zealot, a geek or a Wikia employee would install a peer-to-peer search indexing tool.
The trick is force everyone to index for Wikia.
How? You build a search function into a web-browser-- one that does two functions. First, it gives you quick access to a great search engine. Second, it uses up some spare cycles doing this distributed computing work that Wikia needs. That's easy. You can add it to Firefox. That idea has a couple of problems: Firefox is in Google's back pocket; Firefox has a minority share-- 5-15% depending of who's math you believe. Even if Google weren't tied to Firefox, adding this tool to the next install of Firefox would be like installing it on all Macintoshes.
The trick would be to form an unholy alliance between Wikia and the maker of the #1 web browser, Internet Explorer: Microsoft. That would be unlikely because Microsoft is like the Borg: they don't make alliances, they assimilate. If the leading web browser were to add in this double-barrelled tool, one that makes searching easier for users and for the search engines, it would be able to amplify the capabilities of the search engine in step with the growth of Internet usage. Searching is Google's bread-and-butter. While they make their revenue from AdSense, Google with the search leadership would be like Microsoft without the OS leadership.
Microsoft has a mediocre search product in its MSN search. They are also keen on centralized power and control. Wikia's idea is a good one and Microsoft could have it for very little cost if they could surrender one of two concepts: their need for centralization or their hunger for assimilation.
If Microsoft could do that, they could kick their search rival off of the top of the hill.

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