Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Google dominates, MSN Search sinks

Danny Sullivan posts detailed numbers on search market share, combining data from Comscore, NetRatings, and Hitwise.

To summarize it all, Google grabbed more share at everyone else's Microsoft's and AOL's expense.

Particularly bad off was MSN Search, as Danny shows in this graph of Microsoft's market share in search:

Ouchie. As Danny says, "[Not] a pretty picture for Microsoft ... They haven't held share. It's drop, drop, drop."

It really is remarkable how badly Microsoft is doing against Google. I never would have thought that, nearly four years after they started their "Underdog" project to build a Google-killer, Microsoft would not only be badly behind in search, but also actually losing market share.

See also my earlier posts, "Yahoo and MSN cannot compete?" and "Kill Google, Vol. 3".

Update: Corrected the post to say that Google's gains came at the expense of Microsoft and AOL alone. Yahoo and Ask appear to have held share.

Update: For full disclosure, I should say that Chris Payne and I talked about Underdog back in 2003 (before I started Findory). Not to worry, I had no influence to speak of -- Chris and I disagreed on what was necessary to beat Google -- but I certainly am more critical of MSN Search's missed opportunities because of that history.

Update: Erik Selberg (creator of Metacrawler, now at MSN Search) takes issue with those who would criticize Microsoft's progress, saying "Well, what did anyone really expect?" and "It's not realistic to think that it can be done quickly." He also has some thoughts on the problems at Yahoo and upcoming stagnation at Google. Definitely worth reading his point of view.

Update: Coming full circle, Danny Sullivan comments on Erik's post.

Update: And a follow up post from Erik. Erik says. "Microsoft might beat Google. And Google might beat Microsoft .... Google is pressing ahead, and they've got a big lead ... Unless they do something monumentally stupid, which I doubt, it'll be a long, tough challenge to catch and beat them." He also defends the decision to move to the Live brand. Again, worth reading.

Update: There is also some discussion with Erik and others in the comments for this post.

Update: See also my follow-up post, "MSN Search and beating Google", that includes some good thoughts from Dare Obasanjo.

Update: A couple weeks later, Saul Hansell at the NYT writes:
There is a lot about the way Microsoft has run its Internet business that Steve Berkowitz wants to change. But he is finding that redirecting such a behemoth is slow going.

The pressure is on for Mr. Berkowitz to gain control of Microsoft's online unit, which by most measures has drifted dangerously off course.

Over the last year, its online properties have lost users in the United States. The billions of dollars the company has spent building its own search engine have yet to pay off. And amid a booming Internet market, Microsoft's online unit is losing money.

Google, meanwhile, is growing, prospering, and moving increasingly onto Microsoft's turf.

Microsoft lost its way, Mr. Berkowitz says.
The article goes on to show Microsoft's steep drop in market share, talk about brand confusion between MSN and Live, and discuss how far behind MSN Search appears to be in relevance.

Update: Two months later, Danny Sullivan reports that Microsoft's search market share is continuing to decline.


John K said...

Karma-wise, this feels good.

Unlike the old days, Microsoft is actually suffering due to a crappy product.

I call it the [cheap fares] problem. Do a search on MSN/Live for "cheap fares" and you'll see a ton of blogspot spam.

The crime is that it's been that way since September. It's an embarassing joke. One of many when dealing with Live search.

You are talking about a very common, extremely monetizable query, and the Live Search team can't fix it.

Even if IE 7 does give Live search a traffic bump, it won't last, since the search simply sucks.

This game is over.

burtonator said...

The issue is that search is a HARD problem. You just can't throw money at the problem and expect to solve it overnight. You have to have the core search DNA and expect to have to solve VERY difficult problems.

Greg Linden said...

I agree that search is hard, but who are you saying expects Microsoft to solve it overnight? They have had four years.

Microsoft has had four years and nearly unlimited resources to attack this problem. The fact that it is hard should be no excuse.

Anonymous said...

I don't think your summary that "Google is gaining at the expense of all the others" is accurate, at least in the US. If you read Danny's article, you'll see that he concludes that Yahoo is essentially holding market share and that Google's gains are coming largely at the expense of MSN, AOL, and the rest. Full disclosure: I used to work on web search at Yahoo.

Greg Linden said...

Thanks, Chad, you're right. Yahoo is roughly holding steady.

Sorry that I overgeneralized at the expense of Yahoo. Thanks for the clarification.

Andrew Goodman said...

Microsoft isn't even throwing much money at the problem.

Randy Charles Morin said...

I remember Scoble evangelising this stuff. What was he thinking?

Anonymous said...

So to go from nothing (literally... no no team, no hardware, no software) with unlimited resources to market leader should take what... 2 years? 3? Come on, tell me what you think is reasonable and we'll take the licks if appropriate. We went from nothing to launch in 2 years, which included building a team and deploying several thousand servers. Yeah, the engine wasn't as good, but it was still a pretty monumental task.

Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are getting close to relevance parity. They're still not there yet, but within another year or two they'll probably be pretty hard to tell from one another. That being said, it's going to take a lot more to pull people away from Google's brand, and that's going to be a long slog. But hey, who wants to be in a boring game where you know you're going to win?

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Erik. Yes, I do think Microsoft could have much moved faster and more effectively against Google.

Google Inc. started in Sept 1998 with $1M in a garage and, three years later, dominated Altavista and the other search engines.

Microsoft is not a tiny company in a garage. It is a huge company with a powerful brand, the ability to partner with others against Google, and extraordinary financial resources. So, yes, I do think three years should have been enough time to make more substantial progress.

I realize you might be eager to defend MSN Search, but please do not take my criticism of Microsoft personally. I think the failure of MSN Search to deliver was due to decisions high up in the company, not due to the efforts of particular individuals on the technical side.

Anonymous said...

But to be honest, at the time AltaVista was on what, 3 turbolasers? 5 maybe? [a 8GB alpha multiproc, for those that don't understand my geekspeak!] I can ask some of the former DEC guys we have, but at the time AltaVista hadn't been doing much to improve their relevance and was limited by hardware. Their revolution when they came out in '95 was to put their index in memory on a shared memory multiproc box... super fast, but had issues scaling. They didn't move much, and so scaling using commodity hardware played as much a role in their undoing as their corporate blunders. When we came on the scene, the barrier to entry wasn't duplicating a couple turbolasers, but duplicating a system running on several thousand commodity boxes. And we don't get to learn what we need to in 3 years starting from 9 boxes... we had to start with 5000!

Now... to be fair and critical... let's say Microsoft did invest a few more billion into search. It's not clear hiring could have happened much faster, nor would we have wanted it as bringing on that many new people is a recipe for disaster. But certainly, the hardware infrastructure could have been built out such that it'd be much closer now (you'll notice we've been rather quiet about the size of the index since the Google / Yahoo 20 billion index scuffle a year and a half ago). That's happening, and I suspect in a year or two the size of one's data centers won't be as big a competitive advantage as it is now. But it's a fair point.

I think the real question is whether we're talking about a matter of 1-2 years vs 4-5 years. If we're arguing about 1-2 years, well, OK, fine, you win. We could have done a bit better. But as I told Steve Hanks the other week, if I knew everything I knew at the end of my PhD as I did when I started, it would have taken me a lot less than the 6 years it did. But of course, that's the point of it all!