Richard Bergmair's Blog


==> Dan Primack of Axios reports: Search engine startup from former Google Ads boss raises $40 million, and many people on social media are commenting that it’s crazy due to the sheer size of today’s web.

But the thing is: You’re dealing with insanely long-tailed distributions. The “meat” of the search engine business is in the fat heads of those distributions.

  1. A small number of queries constitutes a huge proportion of query events you’ll see throughout the day.

  2. For any given query, a small proportion of users will make up a huge proportion of the opportunity to monetise (researching a planned purchase, looking for a job etc.)

  3. For any given query, an infinitesimally tiny proportion of the documents on the web is where the value to the user actually is.

I think there are potentially many ways of making selections on each of those three axes and ending up with a viable business based on a manageably small search index. Just think of indeed as a job search engine or Amazon as a product search engine. They have manageably small document collections, great value to users, a stable user base, and monetisation opportunities.

From that standpoint, I find it surprising that there aren’t many more search engine businesses.

Case in point: I really like, the 90s nostalgia search engine. I don’t think they are a profitable business, but I certainly think they could & should be.

And even Google is making deliberate choices along those three dimensions rather than naively indexing the web and naively executing keyword searches against that index.

  1. Given a query, reinterpret as follows. Catch eyeballs by delivering entertainment value (“pizza” -> “entertaining videos related to pizza”). Monetise those eyeballs by reinterpreting them as local queries (“pizza” -> “restaurants near me wanting to sell me pizza”) or products queries (“pizza” -> “online shops trying to sell me pizza-related items”)

  2. Given a query and document, always make relevance decisions for the audience with more disposable income. For example, “farming” shows a lot of stuff you’d want to read if you’re paying £10 for a potato in Borough Market and nothing you’d want to read if you’re a subsistence farmer in Namibia.

  3. When comparing two documents for inclusion in the pool of documents that stand any chance of coming up on page #1, prefer recency to authoritativeness. For “programming languages”, apparently “The 9 Best Programming Languages to Learn in 2021” is considered relevant, while “Go To Statement Considered Harmful” or the Mozilla Developer Network are considered irrelevant.

There are huge audiences who disagree with Google’s choices. They are just waiting to switch or use another product alongside Google if someone comes along making different choices.

So, I really don’t think that any venture in the web search space is doomed, given the size of the engineering effort and Google’s dominance. I’m baffled that there isn’t much more activity in that space.

#computers#business   |   Mar-11 2021