This week marks the beginning of a new era in Internet search. For the first time in modern Internet history, there is a number 2 with sizable market share. This is going to become interesting once Bing and Yahoo! finish integration.
I switched to Google Search many years ago because it was the best - its results were most appropriate, its query language was most predictable, it was fast. In other words, it allowed me to find things easier, faster and with least amount of effort. Search was the first social application on the Web - by clicking on a search result you let search engine know “this is what I was looking for,” which is a form of user participation which allows users to influence (“vote”) selection of content.
I now feel however that Bing search is as good as Google’s. When I end up working on someone else’s machine without Firfox, I end up using IE. And while at first, I always went to google.com explicitly before submitting my search, on a couple of occasions I got lazy and tried Bing (via their upper-righthand corner search textbox). And surprise - results didn’t suck.
While up until now competition was based on quality and technology, now it’s shifting to marketing, distribution, conversions, churn rates, and so on - because quality (I think) is pretty close and no longer is a distinguishing factor (in economics speak, search quality is no longer a competitive advantage). Interestingly, if you read Wikipedia article on Competitive Advantage, you will see that “many forms of competitive advantage cannot be sustained indefinitely” - exactly what happened here.
I also think that this event re-emphasizes increased importance of Google’s relationship with Mozilla (which makes #2 browser) - there is no way IE will default to anything but Bing. This also underscores importance of Google’s investment in Chrome, their own browser platform. If I were Mozilla, I think I could try to extract maybe better terms from Google next time they renegotiate the contract. It’s a win-win for both.
My final observation has nothing to do with search. With technological competitive advantage gone, Google vs Bing showdown is now going to be about execution and - most importantly - effectiveness of leveraging network effect. I find it very interesting, because the same type of showdown may occur in other areas. For example, micro blogging. Twitter currently is by far the #1 platform not due to its technological competitive advantage (their technology is complex, their traffic is huge - but it’s not insanely mathematically complex to require PhDs to figure it out). As a result, all potential entrants to the microblogging space face a single huge obstacle - overcoming huge Twitter network effect. I suspect that Bing vs Google will let us observe and study whether and how network effect can be tamed and ultimately reversed.
In other words, I am most interested in seeing whether network effect in social Internet can be sustained indefinitely as a competitive advantage or not.
Up until now, I can’t name a case when a social Internet site which dominated its field got pushed aside and slipped from #1. In all cases up until now, new entrants carve up a niche and end up dominating it, while the original #1 remains overall #1. Or did I miss an example - could you help in the comments below?
It’s about to get very interesting.