Start-ups are searching for users, not a fight with Google
An interesting trend is emerging among Web search start-ups: Nobody wants to compete with Google -- or they don't want to admit that they're trying.
Perhaps it's not all that surprising. The Mountain View, Calif., search giant dominates the market, racking up 64.4% of all U.S. searches in April, according to market research firm ComScore. That number slipped (less than a percent) compared with the month before, as Yahoo -- more so than Microsoft's Bing -- chipped away at the juggernaut.
Bing, which bills itself as "the decision engine" in ads, and Yahoo's search, which is now powered by Bing and recently executed a new ad campaign targeted at Google, are the big boys. They're taking on Google directly. (Though, with a combined market share that's less than half of the big G, they're not exactly succeeding.)
Outside of those two, it's a different story.
A newcomer to the U.S. market called Springo offers search tools. But Aviv Refuah, chief executive of Springo's parent company, Netex, claims it's "not in the search field."
"We consider ourselves in Web navigation solutions," Refuah said on the phone recently.
That's after, in the press release announcing the new search product's launch in April, a spokesman called Netex "the No. 2 search company in Israel." No. 1, of course, is Google -- by a mile.
Springo is a more picture-heavy search engine than its competitors. Below the familiar search box on its home page is a smattering of buttons representing popular websites and a spot to tailor your own list. Springo's search results don't cover as much of the Internet's pages as Google's. It's more about instantly zipping to top brand's sites.
"We are not about to change the habits of the users," Refuah said, "telling them, 'Don't search on Google; search on Springo.' "
Wolfram Alpha, a mathematical- and database-driven search engine, doesn't dare point a finger at Google either.
"The things that Google is good at, we're not very good at," Schoeller Porter, Wolfram Alpha architect of developer relations, told The Times in March. "We don't consider ourselves to be competitors."
Cooliris promises to search multimedia -- not replace Google.
Rather than compete, numerous Web browser extensions -- for both Firefox and Google's own Chrome -- aim to improve Google search by adding visual or organizational features or combining with other engines. Google is the primary provider of search for the popular Firefox extension CoolPreviews. Another, SearchPreview, recently changed its name from GooglePreview.
Though Springo's founder maintains it's not going after Google, Netex has a potential nuclear bomb.
After 12 years, the Israeli company was finally granted a patent earlier this year for a method of website redirection. It's a key feature of Springo, and it's "just like Google's I'm Feeling Lucky," which sends users to the top search result for a query, Refuah said.
Refuah wouldn't comment on whether Netex would go after Google. And why would they? He said they're not competitors.
-- Mark Milian
Photo: Google co-founders Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page are seen at company headquarters in 2004. Credit: Associated Press