How to destroy Google

I like Google.  They are brilliant, non-evil, I use their various services daily, my best friend from college works there, etc.  No complaints.  The following is merely an academic exercise in business strategy.  

If you were a loser in pay-per-click search advertising (e.g. Microsoft), how would you fight back?  Taking Google’s customers is too hard, because there’s no real reason to switch.  Instead, why not just destroy the entire PPC ad market by open-sourcing the web search industry?

Imagine that MSFT and other also-rans funded a truly independent, nonprofit, open-source-based search site, which ran no ads. Computer makers could easily be convinced to use it as their default search engine, because it would reduce their dependence upon Google, without increasing their dependence on Microsoft.

This strategy would steal page views from Google.  It is not necessary to kill Google to end its dominance:  a 30-point loss in market share could drive Google into the red, throwing its virtuous cycle (earnings, stock options, recruiting) into reverse:  share collapse, layoffs, reduced retention, etc.

There are no anti-trust concerns — this would be a truly independent entity, jointly funded by a consortium, rather like Mozilla.

The technical hurdles are low.  Search engines long ago reached the “good enough” stage.  The insights of Page and Brin in the mid-1990s were so great that little has changed in the past several years.  There already exist reasonably good open-source modules for web search.  

The main hurdle is the capital expense of a big server farm.  Assuming a consortium pays for this, all that’s needed is to plug some GPL modules together, scale them up, and set this as the default search engine on all new HP and Dell computers.

Such a service would not work as well as Google.  But it would be good enough, and would be the default on every new computer.  By thus sucking revenue out of pay-per-click, MSFT could sustain the Empire for a few more years.

Why would I write this, if I love Google?  First, because it’s the truth, and second, because there is no risk that paralyzed, rudderless Microsoft would actually do it.



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