Just when I thought it was safe to go outside, a new Google killer has been reported to be on the loose. Monday morning, start-up search engine cuil.com was launched, accompanied by a rapid fire of cheerleading, speculation and, ultimately, ridicule. Search experts around the globe threw five to 10 queries at the engine before declaring Cuil a failure.
Why is it that we so desperately want to kill Google? Are we projecting a modern-day David and Goliath aspiration? Or deep down, do we love the fact that Google is so resilient? Less than a decade ago, it was Google that was the little start-up that could. So when exactly did this talk of killing start?
According to a Google News query, it was Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, that first uttered the phrase in an AP article. “I doubt Teoma will become a Google killer,” Sullivan said. That was on March 28, 2002, and the phrase was repeated through June of that year in reference to Teoma. By August of 2002, ZDNet used the phrase as a catchy headline, in “Fast AlltheWeb: Google killer?,” and in 2003, Search Day repeated this formula in “WiseNut, the Google killer?”
Yet it wasn’t until 2004, the year that Google announced its IPO and Yahoo’s relationship with the engine ended, that entrepreneurs and journalists started plotting a massacre. In January 2004, Wired authored a piece titled “There’s a Gaggle chasing Google,” reporting on year-old rumors that Microsoft was working on a “Google killer.” Throughout the year, Amazon’s A9 was noted as a prime suspect; Garrett French named “Click Fraud: The Google Killer; and Clusty was released on bail when IT World said, “Clusty is no Google Killer.”
This use of the negative was quickly applied to Microsoft, once again by Danny Sullivan, as quoted in the New York Times. “Overall, I’m pleased it’s out there,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a Google killer anytime soon.” In 2005, Sullivan cautioned the same for a Yahoo launch in a CNET quote regarding Yahoo’s contextual product launch: “It is more of an interesting new feature than a Google killer. We’ll see how it goes.”
Despite Sullivan’s thoughtful observations, journalists clung to the concept, setting an awful precedent for all would-be Google killer launches to date. Stoking this fire was high net worth manager Carlo Panaccione’s comment in a 2005 BusinessWeek cover story regarding Googlers’ cautious approach to personal investing. “No matter how incredibly great Google is doing now,” Panaccione says in the article, “at some point there will be a Google-killer out there.”
The rest is history. From 2006 to the present, everyone was suspect, including Thomson and Bertelsmann in the Quaero project, Powerset (recently acquired by Microsoft), Wikia, Convera, Xcerion, Mahalo, and even a proposed triumvirate scenario where Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft merge.
So where do we go from here? With Google’s search share nearing 70%, there is no lack of start-ups willing to take on the challenge of perfecting the search-and-find equation, much like Google did in the early days. I will bet that Google’s founders still see its search engine as a work in progress, with plenty of work ahead. On that note, let’s cut Cuil and the rest of the gang some slack and leave the “Google killers” to mystery novels.