With the heady rise of Google in this new millennium, and with the verb ‘to google’ entering the English language so easily, the company certainly looked like the giant killer in the world of ICT for the 2000s.
Consider its revenue curve: 2002, US $400 million; 2003 $1.4 billion; 2005 $6.1 billion; 2007 $16.5 billion. Sure, like everyone else Google has hit a bit of a brick wall known as the economic recession, but those text ads remain a powerful advertising medium.
The IT market though has proven true to its past, in that no IT company has maintained a dominant position in the market over two technological ‘generations'. So it had to come to pass that Google’s rapid ascent would bring out a rival offering an improved technology.
Step forward British inventor (though American-based) Dr Stephen Wolfram who has developed the Wolfram Alpha software, which was recently showcased at Harvard University. It has caused quite a stir, with comments such as: ”It’s like plugging into an electric brain", Matt Marshall (venturebeat.com) and, ”This is like the Holy Grail. The ability to look inside data sources that can’t easily be crawled and provide answers from them", Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of searchengineland.com.
Dr Wolfram says the real innovation is the software’s ability to work things out ”on the fly". At the Harvard demonstration he typed in the question ‘What is the GDP of France divided by Italy?' and the engine replied with the correct answer supported by graphs and other statistics.
In the media reports the words ‘Google killer' have been used in headlines and attached to stories about the software, though that is somewhat fanciful.
In the first instance there is the name. ”Wolfram it", doesn’t quite have the same ring!
Though more critically, Google is reported to be working on a similar type of search engine.
And the news about the Wolfram Alpha development has been rather publically semaphored before having an up-and-go mainstream product ready to sell — the current Wolfram Alpha is designed with professionals and academics in mind . Google could either replicate Wolfram Alpha with a modified, more user-friendly version, or just buy out the principals behind the software and then launch a more user-friendly version.
Dr Wolfram and his backers are no doubt flattered by all the attention and media hyperbole. However, developing software to take on Google is clever, but it’s just one small step on a long journey.
The hard yards come with getting the software to market while staying one technological jump ahead of a multi-national company that has a massive amount of money and resources.
And then, after the hard yards of getting the software to market, comes the marathon. The upstart competitor has to convince Google users to switch over to Wolfram Alpha. (Alpha it! That would work better). And in these recessionary times, it has to turn a profit fast.
As any manufacturer of any new product in any industry knows, getting the great general public to switch from an established brand is somewhat difficult.
A local ICT example that springs to mind is TradeMe, with all those failed websites that have had a tilt at it.