Still More Not-So-Natural-Born Google Killers

By Aaron Goldman, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
Appeared in MediaPost’s Search Insider

My kill count is reaching Jack Bauer status.

I started by slaying four would-be Google killers. Then I targeted three more contenders before crowning just one — and it probably doesn’t even know it. From there, I shot down three more entities.

Today, I’ll crush even more potential killers than that. This time I’ll do a lightning round so I can get to them all and close this violent chapter in my life. Besides, my next column needs to be my bi-annual Search Insider Summit buzz recap.

As a reminder, unlike other pundits who consider emerging search engines to be challengers to the Google throne, my focus is on companies, individuals, and institutions that stand in the way of Google reigning supreme in the $500 billion global advertising universe — and in case you couldn’t tell, I don’t think any search engine is going to do that.

1. eBay

No longer a glorified garage sale, eBay has emerged as a true global marketplace. In many ways Google’s auction-based pricing is a testament to the model that eBay made popular. eBay was also the backbone of a movement to create an exchange for TV inventory.

Advantage: Google. EBay itself is one of Google’s largest customers, and most large, savvy eBay sellers use Google to hawk their wares. EBay may have captured the long tail of classified advertisers — but Google’s got its grip on the long tail of all advertisers. And eBay’s ad exchange seems to be going nowhere fast.

2. Amazon

Here’s another company that started with a simple idea and leveraged the long tail into a digital behemoth. Its recommendation engine is second to none — OK, maybe second to Netflix but none after that — and could serve as a framework for a pretty robust search-and-act engine. Amazon even developed a search engine that, at one point, was the next Google killer. Anyone remember when they “’ed it” on the OC?

Advantage: Google. A9 has faded into obscurity and serves mostly as a promotional tool for Amazon inventory. Outside of that play and some of the third-party ads it’s now serving on its main property, Amazon is not really a factor in the media and marketing world, unless you count the Kindle, which is neat but not a game-changer.

3. News Corp.

Not-so-quietly, News Corp. is building quite the media empire. With holdings in print, radio, movies, TV, cable, radio, outdoor, and online, News Corp. stands poised to be a major player in the global ad market for a long time. Its purchase of MySpace — for what now looks like a bargain price of $580 million — touched off a spending spree that has Fox Interactive Media sitting pretty as a must-buy for online advertisers.

Advantage: Google. Just as I dinged NBC Universal two weeks ago for having a nice portfolio but no overarching system to leverage the assets, News Corp. has not demonstrated an ability — or desire, for that matter — to integrate all its platforms into one easy-to-maneuver dashboard as Google has. News Corp is a media company at its core and it’s going to take a radical shift in focus to develop the resources to compete with Google from a technology standpoint. Bottom line, scale is meaningless without an efficient system tying it all together, especially across different media platforms.

4. AOL Time Warner

Do I really need to debunk this one? No? Good…

Advantage: Google.

5. Backchannel

Who? That was my reaction when I read Jon Fine’s piece in BusinessWeek describing a company that promises to make TV ads clickable. In a nutshell, Backchannel has technology that allows users to use interact with content from marketers via their TV. No special equipment is needed beyond a TV and Internet connection.

Advantage: Google. Backchannel’s key insight is that the way to make TV ads as effective as search ads is user-initiation, not just auction-based pricing — the latter being Google’s main selling point for its TV ads offering, so far. That said, Google is looking to incorporate a quality score-like component that ensures the most relevant ads reach each viewer. We’re in the early stages of Google’s TV initiative and you have to give the nod to the company with the billions in cash on hand and millions of advertisers in queue. At this point, Backchannel is nothing more than acquisition fodder for the Big G.

6. End-users

Perhaps the most potent Google killer of all is the very person most responsible for its success — Joe Consumer. If end-users didn’t adopt Google so definitively as the search engine of choice, the company would never have been able to amass the war chest to become a true portal and develop other cloud applications. That said, we know people can be fickle, especially when it comes to online activity — remember Friendster?

Advantage: Google. There are certainly no signs that end-users will be kicking the Google habit anytime soon. Everything Google does is executed with end-users is mind — no matter how frustrating it might be to marketers and publishers.

7. Google Itself

At this point, it certainly seems plausible that the only entity (besides government bodies) that could derail Google from its mission of organizing all the world’s information…. er, dominating the global advertising marketplace, is Google itself. The company has thrived under the guise of doing no evil. All it would take is one slip, such as the misuse of personally identifiable information. One rogue or misguided employee pulling an AOL could have a devastating impact. Clearly, Google is aware of this and throwing its best people at safeguarding its assets; but somebody told me you don’t know what you don’t know.

Advantage: Google.‘Nuff Said


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.