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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Competition for Google?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Competition for Google?

Many economists view competition as ubiquitous.  It is everywhere and threatens the position of dominant firms if they fail to innovate.  I don't know which products will be market winners but consumers will certainly win.  Ned Potter describes Wolfram's computational engine in "The Answer Machine? Wolfram Alpha Debuts," (ABC News, June 1, 2009).
Wolfram Alpha. It sounds like a code name from World War II, or perhaps a term a wildlife biologist would know.

Instead, it's the name of an audacious, if quirky, Web site led by the scientist Stephen Wolfram -- not a search engine, and not meant to be the "Google killer" that it was sometimes described as being, but a "computational knowledge engine." It is a Web site that will answer your questions -- at least some of them -- even if nobody has ever asked them before.

"What we're trying to do is much more ambitious," said Wolfram, 49, the lead developer of the technology behind the project, on which he says he has worked 25 years. "We're trying to take the question you ask, and automatically produce for you the answer, not giving you a collection of links, and saying, 'Go read this Web site, go read that Web site.'"
Gordon Crovitz "Google Gets Some Competition," describes Microsoft's Bing search engine (Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2009).
Microsoft says Bing, which goes live on Wednesday, will distinguish itself from Google and Yahoo by focusing on delivering answers, not just search results showing potentially relevant links. Microsoft says it's built a "decision engine, designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions."

The goal is to understand what you're trying to know and to come up with answers, categorizing results in more useful ways. Bing has a separate approach, for example, to searches for factual research versus, say, searches for the best price for a new camera.
Finally, John Timmer describes Google's latest product enhancement, Google Squared in "Google squares the Web, hilarity ensues," (ars technica, June 4, 2009).
Yesterday, Google Labs took the wraps off its Google Squared service, which takes a spreadsheet-like approach to finding information on the Web. It's tempting to speculate that this is a bit of a response to Wolfram Alpha, the online computation engine that went live last month. But, although a spreadsheet implies calculation, Google's squared simply uses a cell-based presentation to organize data—the approach to the actual data is actually radically different from Wolfram's. We took the service for a bit of a spin and found it interesting and potentially useful, but only for those willing to put in a fair bit of effort.

The idea behind Squared, which Google announced back in May, is that users often want the results of what's essentially a multidimensional search. So, for example, if I wanted a collection of demographic information on several major US cities, I might need to perform multiple searches, one for each city. Google squared allows you to extend a single search into a second dimension—it's possible to create a square where each city has a row, and each column contains the specific demographic information you're interested in.


  1. Google has evolved greatly adding many incentives such as G-mail, personalized web pages, and online calenders, but has done very little to the actual search engine. Wolfram Alpha will surely take Google's market power unless Google ceases with marginal changes and works to improve it's core product, the search engine.

  2. Charlotte Hawkins-McKinney8/6/09 8:49 PM

    I didn't know anything about Bing or Wolfram but I went to each site to check it out. Bing is easier on the eye, more attractive and it doesn't look so straight laced. Both sites will have there strenghtens ans weakness. Bing actually will list links to the answer instead of giving the answer to the question. It seems like both sites will serve there purpose and be benificial to it's users.

  3. Everyone has to eventually retire rather they like it or not, kind of like Michael Jordan no matter how sad it may be. I believe the same goes for Google. That doesn't mean Google will be useless or cease to exist, it just means it may not be in the spotlight. I think many variables will come into play that can determine the future of Google. It may depend on how susceptible people are to change. It also takes time to learn a new technology, but that time may be regained if the technology is truly an improvement. People may just get bored of Google. Who knows?


  4. Michael Overcash10/6/09 12:16 AM

    It does appear that technology is growing more life like by the day. Bing appears to be anticipating the normative state of the end users by ambitiously guestimating their thoughts and intentions. This can lead to a greater insight into the realm of knowledge by more accurately defining the marginal benefits of the subject at hand. This can in turn overcome one of the greatest opportunity costs of all time, which of course is time itself.

  5. Kayla Harding10/6/09 11:03 PM

    As I was unaware of the new site, I'm very stoked to see there is going to be a useful and non streaming of website that answers your questions directly. The web world has a very diverse selection of sites to chose from that Im not so sure google will be totally left out in the shadow. Every if not most businesses go thru a business cycle of ups and downs, which helps improve there quality of services so they know whats dragging them down. I believe google and other searchers will hit bump in the road but will eventually recover and resume back to normal.

    Your student

  6. Jason Haddock11/6/09 12:53 PM

    Wolfram has been around for awhile now, producing mathematics software (that is quite good I might add). If they bring the same forward thinking and success to the search engine world they'll give both Google and Microsoft a lot of competition.