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Technology's "Killer" Distraction

A new search engine, Cuil, is attracting the requisite “Google killer” coverage. Thankfully, Seth Godin provides some much-needed perspective:

I have no doubt that someone will develop a useful tool one day that takes time and attention away from Google, but it won’t be a search engine. Google, after all, isn’t broken, not in terms of solving the iconic “how do I find something online using my web browser” question.

I have no beef with Cuil itself (the handful of queries I ran worked fine), but this “killer” business is another matter. In the history of tech prognostications, has an upstart killer ever successfully terminated its target? More importantly, what possible benefit do any of us get from this type of analysis?

I can only imagine the useful commentary we would see if the killer oeuvre could be stricken from the record. The bombastic flavor-of-the-day cycle might be replaced with actual thoughts about the future of particular applications and their accompanying industries. Perhaps we’d even stop shoehorning lightning-in-a-bottle success stories into unrelated products (e.g. the Kindle/iPod comparisons). And maybe we’d finally see that the exciting developments — the products and experiments that really stir things up — come from people who focus on creation rather than dominance.

As Seth eloquently notes:

… success keeps going to people who build new icons, not to those that seek to replace the most successful existing ones.

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  • http://packtdavidb.tumblr.com David Barnes

    “In the history of tech prognostications, has an upstart killer ever successfully terminated its target?”

    Word vs. WordPerfect
    Excel vs. Lotus 123

    Microsoft terminate its target not just by having better products, but by shaking the foundations. Microsoft introduced Windows and it became a question worth asking again… “which word processor should I get?” “which spreadsheet program is best?”

    Everybody knew which was best for DOS so stopped asking. But Windows’ GUI changed the game.

    Nobody is asking “which search engine should I use?” anymore. Analysts might quibble over which one could be a Google killer, but unless users are asking the question Google will remain number 1.

    Facebook is having a go at shaking the foundations by building a rich, searchable data silo that Google can’t index. With Facebook Pages it’s not just social stuff — businesses can build their web presence inside Facebook.

    Once the phone number for my local restaurant is as likely to be on Facebook as on the open web, people will start asking about which search engine they should use again.

  • http://toc.oreilly.com/mac_slocum Mac Slocum

    @David: To expand on your point — foundation shaking is a side effect of innovation, which itself is born from experimentation and creativity. The focus on these head-on “killers” is wrong because the things that change the game do so indirectly. I just don’t see the point in this type of analysis (beyond filling space and/or airtime).

  • http://packtdavidb.tumblr.com David Barnes

    Agreed. Disruptive technologies are more valuable than improvements on the current number 1. But once disrupted, it’s possible to slip in your killer app and mop up a load of cash, even if the disruption itself didn’t generate a lot of revenue.