In A Digital Democracy, How Long Can So Few Search Giants Dominate?

I recently posted about Google’s major competition being the unknown, especially as it was blatantly documented in its latest annual eport. I expanded on that theme in my latest MediaPost SearchInsider column here. Here’s a flavor:

The golden age of mass media was perhaps best characterized by the peak in audience of the three big broadcast television networks. Of course, that era ended as a fourth and fifth network emerged, and even dozens and hundreds more arrived across cable, satellite and now the Internet. Many have said the Internet is most responsible for furthering media fragmentation and driving consumer empowerment. The notion of control by only a few traditional media institutions is going away. We’ve entered a digital, distributed world where the little guy can be heard. Internet search–the rising gatekeeper and window into our media world–is at the center of this evolution.

But if all that is true, then one of the biggest paradoxes amidst this media power shift is that the new digital ("do no evil") world follows a pattern of dominance similar to the old, in at least one fundamental way. Mainly, while Internet search has been simultaneously disruptive and beneficial by making the world’s information more accessible–essentially, exposing the niches and democratizing information–search itself is following a curve where only a few control that access and exposure.

I noted in my story that a lot of little guys are very responsible for innovating and creating some of the greatest competition for the major search players, especially Google. And that is among the major factors that will break down the uneven power balance in search-engine share today. Even though I think I’m right, David Berkowitz just emailed me and made a very good point:

Note that when it comes to search categories that are really sustaining innovations, the [big] engines just do as good a job themselves or buy whoever’s doing it right, as evidenced by acquisitions of Truveo, Flickr, and the ever-growing list.

That leads to a key question that should be asked of all those so-called little guys: To what extent is acquisition by one of the three big search giants at the core of your business strategy?

UPDATE: some more feedback, from Jennifer Laycock of Search Engine Guide. And more from Scott at Search Marketing For Dummies.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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