Be careful when predicting who will win the tech battles – search engine illustration

Don’t be too confident when you guess who will win the battles for market share and who is destined to disappear. Remember when Yahoo was the dominant search engine provider?

When that upstart outfit, Google, appeared on the scene in 1998 who would have predicted it to be the dominant search engine in 2013, a mere 15 years later?

My friend John Bredehoft creates a forecast from 1998 using information available at the time in his post, In which I apply the wisdom of 1998 to an old Salon article.

If he was blogging at the time, he guesses he would have not given Google much of a chance to succeed against Excite, Lycos, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. He would have guessed the new Disney search engine would fare better than Google and several others.

His hypothetical comment about Google:

I encourage you to go to the page of this new search engine that the author is all excited about. Yeah, go to it. THERE’S NOTHING THERE. It’s basically the name of the company, and a search box. I don’t care what algorithm those college guys are running under the hood – a web page that is so devoid of information is utterly useless.

Yahoo and AOL were the dominant search engines and destined for even bigger and better days.  Yahoo’s guessed future:

 It’s clear that Yahoo will continue to evolve, and will become the premier web destination of the 21st century.

The surprise winner, if one took the lead, likely will be AOL:

AOL is rapidly becoming a financial dynamo, and could very well be in the position to acquire a complementary company. Personally, I think that the most likely acquisition is Disney – not many companies can acquire a major media company, but AOL can. Imagine what would happen if all of those AOL subscribers were routed to the go.com domain!

But there are other candidates for an AOL acquisition. Take, for example, Time Warner – itself a huge conglomerate of everything from Ted Turner’s television stations to the WB Network to TIME magazine. Now marry that with the army of AOL subscribers, and you’ll have a true winner!

Umm…How did that AOL purchase of Time Warner turn out? Umm…it was actually the other way around. And it turned out not so well, thanks for reminding me, says Time Warner.

Today’s search results

To put this into perspective, I pulled the source of search referrals for the last year from my lead blog, Nonprofit Update, and accumulated the number of referrals from each source. Then I calculated the search results as a percent of total referrals. Here’s where people come from over the last year at one of my blogs:

  • 82.0% Google
  • 6.1% Bing
  • 4.1% Yahoo
  • 0.8% AOL
  • 0.6% Ask
  • 0.3% Facebook
  • 0.0% Excite
  • 0.0% Lycos
  • 0.0% MSN
  • 5.9% remainder, which is predominantly other blog sites

Google has 40 times the share of searches as Yahoo, and 100 times the searches as AOL. Don’t know if the search results at my lead site are representative of the market, but Excite, Lycos, and MSN are at zero. That’s not rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent. That’s zero, as is just below one search.

I’m getting more referrals from other blog sites than from Yahoo.

The lesson?

Be careful when predicting the long-term winners of the tech battles. Don’t assume today’s winners will be around tomorrow.

Don’t assume that Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn will still be dominant players 15 years from now.

Someone might even overtake Apple. Nah. That’ll never, ever happen. Just look at Yahoo. And IBM’s PC-DOS.

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