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Published on December 1st, 2008 | by Saurabh Pandey


Is it easier to beat a Google than a Facebook?

Millions of internet users start their daily internet surfing chore with Google; for many others Google is an irreplaceable tool to search and find new information areas related to their work or interest.
Cult Sites like Facebook or My Space still haven’t evoked such loyalty and such involvement from their users. Yet, I believe that Google is under a much larger threat of being replaced than sites like Face book and My Space.

Search: Frankly, people do not have any specific affinity to a Google or a Yahoo! If tomorrow a Yahoo comes up with a better search engine, and assuming these are the traits of a better search engine:

    o More and relevant results.
    o Comprehensive results demarcated into verticals or categories (Research, News, Images & video, Blogs          and Articles, whitepapers, journals etc.) depending upon purpose and intensity of search.
    o Localised results
    o Recommendations basis similar search by other people and by their level of satisfaction.
    o Ability for a user to evolve the search result (works like a spider’s web, one result leads to another and          hence one can reach a desired result)
    o Multi-platform and multi-access search (imagine a yahoo search for your internet enabled- TV,                      Refrigerator, Mobile Phone, car, library, trade fair etc.)

AND… if Yahoo pays us for every click on a sponsored search result (which results in a desired action); How long will it take for any of us to switch over to Yahoo?

Frankly, the perception of quality far outweighs the actual quality of a search engine, and hence if a search engine can do nothing but just copy a Google (which is already happening) and also incentivises the users , then Google could be in serious trouble!

By the way, as I write this, Microsoft is already testing it’s live search with a similar incentivization model.

Net, net there’s nothing at stake for an end user, when it comes to switching a search engine, and hence the substitution process can be easily activated by first allowing a co-exist model, followed by a habit-shift process through incentivization and innovation. So, classically, it will take a good mix of product development and incentivization to beat a Google and this shift would be relatively quicker than an email id shift or a social network shift.


Inverted Pyramid of inertia and usage

The graph stacks categories in order of a consumer’s increasing inertia (from top to bottom) to switch to a substitute brand.

Historically this has been happening since some time now, right from Archie and Gopher to Lycos to Alta Vista to Yahoo and then to Google, the baton has passed from one player to another, and assuming that internet users were as qualified and serious in those days (in-fact some people say that they were much more tech savvy and serious) as they are today, it’s easy to deduce that there’s someone else waiting to shift Google to the second place!

For people who need statistics, Japan, India, China and Korea contribute to more than half of the world’s internet population (both through mobile and PC). And Google is perhaps not the no.1 search engine in 3 out of these 4 countries!

Now jumping over to a social networking case: We choose to be on a social networking site largely because of:
Presence of opinion leaders or
Presence of a large no. of our type of people,
and then slowly create our own network, and reputation.

Now creating a network and reputation takes time and effort, and precisely why anyone would think twice before just latching on to just another social network. This makes things really difficult for any new entrant…


1. It’s a niche network targeting a unique need.
2. The opinion leaders and friends are shifting over
3. The existing network suddenly becomes obsolete, behind the times and without any buzz, maybe because of a technology or any other disruption brought in by a competition.

So what’s the story of Big Adda and Ibibo?

Big Adda-You already know it: Amitabh Bachchan (Opinion leader) got the crowd in. Not a bad strategy at all, but how do you create stickiness?
Ibibo– Peple came in because they were incentivised for not just joining in but also on creating a network and frequent content update. Good and well thought out strategy. But what happens when the incentivisation gets over? Do people remain there or go back to the Facebooks and My Spaces ?
More importantly did incentivisation help create good content regularly also? If not, then there will be no stickiness again!

So while full marks to both Big Adda and Ibibo for doing a wonderful job, I still think they need to be working upon targeting an entirely new set of users (could be school children, to be tapped early in the lifecycle when they do not have exposure of any other Social Networking site) or target unique local needs (gaming, citizen journalism, collaborative authoring of a book or a movie, etc.).


New set of users (like school children) are in a phase of experimentation and hence may dabble with more than 1 social network. Brand loyalty could be low. Also once they reach a certain age and proficiency of usage they would want to graduate from a ‘bachchon ka’ social network to a “serious and bade logon ka” social network.

But I still think, given the size and scope of Indian market it makes complete sense to target new users with the following directions:

1. Target new users who are mature and relatively more brand loyal– e.g. women. NOW this                 strategy can allow a new entrant to co-exist with competition. So a lady will not exit/leave a facebook,         but since this new site services a ‘certain latent need’ better-so she will ALSO be seen here to satisfy             ‘that’ need.
2. Target new users like school children and evolve your product as your Target audience evolves.-           Long term strategy, good when the overall category itself is in a growth phase. May not work in a mature       phase.


3. Target new users like school children and stick to your positioning. There is an incessant               supply of these young kids, and their influence is all pervasive.-Simple- segment your audience, go all         out to woo them and be the best for them.

To Conclude:

A plain vanilla search engine will always be under threat of substitution by a competing brand, unless it expands beyond to become multi-platform, omni-accessible, cuts across need segments and integrates search with other applications, quickly and innovated consistently.

On the other hand a Social Network is difficult to be substituted, however it needs to understand that people join them to find god content and good friends coupled with interesting and innovative applications which help them to collaborate and co-create.

Hence the real challenge for a social network is to attract the right audience quickly, because each passing day makes the entry barrier stronger for newer players, and then work hard on retaining them.

So, does this mean that It’s easier to win in a ‘search’ game than in a ‘social network’? I leave it upto you to decide!


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