This is the subhead for the blog post

On with the show – part three of four

Step 3: Decentralize Search Engines

This one (and the next one) are a little crazy, I admit, but hear me out. Yahoo’s recent acquisition of del.icio.us and Flickr have the potential to be very interesting in the long run. These are companies that allow individuals to in essence create their own personalized search engines of Web sites and photos. I can tag a bunch of Web sites and then conduct a search of my own tags to find out what I felt was relevant (example: I tag a picture “Alaska fishing”, then I search Flickr for “Alaska Fishing” and voila the picture shows up).

Even more interestingly, if I start to generate a reputation as being a relevant tagger, other people may someday want to use my tagging system as their guide to the Internet. Pretty soon, perhaps there are thousands of people like me who spend hours each day tagging Web sites.

Sort of like Page Rank – where the more sites that link to your Web page the higher your relevancy in the Google Algorithm – except that in this case, there is less computerized algorithm and more of a collaborative filter based on human recommendations. Sort of like a democratized version of DMOZ.org. This “social networking search algorithm” could be a big blow to Google’s complex computerized algorithms. Google has invested millions in thousands of servers and top computer scientists. What happens if it turns out that people, working together, can actually create better search results than a computer?

This reminds me a little bit of Blockbuster Video. Blockbuster, in the early 90s, bragged to their investors that something like 90% of all Americans were no more than five miles from a Blockbuster location. In other words, Blockbuster argued that their competitive advantage was the sheer volume of brick-and-morter stores they operated. At the time, this was a pretty good argument.

Then came the Internet and NetFlix. Then “On Demand” cable. Suddenly, people didn’t want to drive to the store to get a video. It was so much easier to get one mailed to you, or better yet, to order one on your TV (and someday, of course, through your computer). Blockbuster’s real estate advantage was destroyed in a matter of years.

The same could be true for Google’s server-farm/smart engineer advantage. What happens if it turns out that fast computers and lots of nerds isn’t really the differentiator that Google thought?

Search engines ‘programmed’ by the masses – it could be a Google killer.

Tomorrow: The fourth and final chapter!