I recall reading statements that suggested our profession was asleep at the wheel during the period when Google emerged as the dominant search engine. Why, some asked, did librarians fail to develop a better search engine since we are search experts? Well those folks may have overlooked just how much capital is needed to actually start a new search engine venture. Let’s just say it’s more than most academic libraries have in their budget for new, entrepreneurial ventures.
For some insight into what is involved in trying to develop a competitive search engine – one that can beat Google at its own game – read the New York Times article on “Looking for the Next Google” (originally appeared on 1/1/07 – sorry – no longer freely available) about some Silicon Valley search engine startup firms. There are two pieces of information that suggest the difficulty in taking on this task (these are taken from the article):
Since the beginning of 2004, venture capitalists have put nearly $350 million into no fewer than 79 start-ups that had something to do with Internet search, according to the National Venture Capital Association, an industry group.
Of dozens of search start-ups that were introduced in recent years, none had more than a 1 percent share of the United States search market in November, according to Nielsen NetRatings, a research firm that measures Internet traffic.
It’s easy to criticize academic librarians for failing to develop some sort of competitive search engine – or even for failing to come up with a good idea for one. But when you consider the odds against the success of such ventures – and even if you made the wildly optimistic assumption that a venture capital firm could be convinced to provide funding for a library-related entrepreneurial search engine (or even if we choose to band together and fund it ourselves) – it still seems far more sensible for academic libraries to hitch their wagon to the market leaders. In doing so we need to be clear about our end goals and how any partnership can further our achieving those goals.
That said, maybe we need to keep our eye on Powerset, Hakia, and other start-up engines that think they can be the next Google. Perhaps one of these new potential competitors of Google will be interested in doing more for academic libraries than just digitizing our content so that it can be used to increase advertising revenues. But the reality is that getting a share of that revenue pool (the market for Internet search is valued at $141 billion) is what the race to be the next big search engine is all about.