Here’s a link to a New York Times article on search and on the general topic of out-Googling Google.
The first company mentioned in the story is Powerset (slogan “natural language search”), a firm that remains mysterious to me and who still has only a shell of a website, here. Powerset’s main competence thus far appear to be PR, having had great visibility at the Web 2.0 Summit and earning themselves the lead in this New York Times story.
The story goes on to mention Hakia, a Web 2.0 Summit sponsor (slogan: search for meaning), which seems to be something of a semantic web play though not using any of the usual suspect semantic technologies (e.g., OWL, RDF). Hakia describes its technology, in brief, right here. (Gee, I wonder where they got the idea for SemanticRank(tm). I wonder if one of their founders is named Larry Semantic.)
The story also mentions Wikia, the for-profit spinoff of Wikipedia, and its search efforts which have generated significant confusion of late. This techcrunch article, which recieved a huge amount of pickup, incorrectly cited the project as Wikiasari, and according to Wikia, the screenshot in question was part of Wikisearch (the search engine that searches Wikipedia) and had nothing to with their efforts to out-do Google by fixing the “search is broken” problem through an effort called Search Wikia. (Anyone wonder why there’s confusion?)
I remember after Oracle made it big in the late 1980s that venture capitalists (VCs) poured around $100M into about 10 object database firms, hoping to catch the next Oracle. Times change, but VCs don’t. The article states that since 2004 VCs have poured over $350M into about 80 search-related startups.
The article adds the sobering reminder that A9 basically failed to become a major search engine, despite some very talented people, some great technology, and the backing of Amazon.
Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search, weighs in towards the end with a quote that I find pretty non-Google: “search is becoming an increasingly capital intensive business.” Which to me is a pretty way of saying “we’ll win because we’re big.” (I imagine that Google, in character, would say, “we’ll win because we have better technology.”)
What’s more, while A9 may have failed, Bezos isn’t done yet. His elastic computing cloud (EC2), Amazon storage services (AS2), and open access to the Alexa web crawl are all quite deliberate efforts to reduce barriers to entry in the business of web services, and eliminate the problem that Mayer talks about.