You don’t change the world with a marginally better mousetrap

For those of you paying attention, Cuil, a new search engine taking aim at Google, launched with much hype. Much of that hype comes from the fact that it was founded by former Google search architect Anna Patterson and her husband, Stanford professor Tom Costello.

That hype and good press didn’t last long though. WebWare says they showed us how not to launch a search engine.

Forget the hype and whether Cuil is or isn’t better or different or whatever than Google and all the rest – the real point is that it just doesn’t matter.

As Jeff Nolan puts it, “you don’t beat Google just by being marginally better than Google”. I wrote recently that technology only matters when it creates new possibilities. Here, Cuil doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Cuil claims to be be “bigger than Google” in terms of what it indexes, but it doesn’t really matter since most us of never get past the first page of results. Even though the

This also underlines part of why Microsoft and Yahoo! can’t seem to put a dent in Google’s market dominance - even if they’re improving marginally over Google in recent iterations. Google is “good enough”, and improving marginally over doesn’t beat something that is “good enough”.

On this point, Seth Godin had a timely post about icons.

Markets love icons. We seek them out. Placeholders, shorthand for a bigger idea or a shortcut to a good enough solution.

Marilyn Monroe is an icon. You can use her image and say a lot, instantly. Same with the Mona Lisa.

Is it possible to be more of a blonde bombshell than Monroe? Of course you can be better looking or more blonde or more married to intellectual celebrities or dour sports stars. Is it possible to paint a better painting than the Mona Lisa? Definitely.

It doesn't matter.

Seth concludes

The challenge for organizations is this: the easiest projects to start and fund are those that go after existing icons. The search for the "next" is easy to explain and exciting to join because we can visualize the benefits. But success keeps going to people who build new icons, not to those that seek to replace the most successful existing ones.

Instead of trying to beat the market leader at its own game, you’re better off trying to change the game. (You know, kind of like Google tried to do with OpenSocial).

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