Search: The Web’s New Whiz Kid

Investors are lining up to buy Google shares already. There’s only one problem: The company hasn’t had an IPO yet and, for that matter, hasn’t said it’s even close to going public.

That kind of restlessness is refreshingly retro, but it’s also dangerously reminiscent. The same kind of enthusiasm, which some might even call exuberance (and still others might call irrational), got us into a heap of trouble in the past.

This time it’s different, of course. With Google, the fascination is with the company, not the sector. Or is it?

Seek and Destroy

Hardly. In fact, no polls are needed, so don’t go to your computer to vote. There’s no contest. Web search companies and their ancillary revenue-generators, such as keywords and ad placements, are the Web’s new can’t-miss kids.

The also-rans include travel — remember how revved up the idea of an Orbitz IPO once got people? — and not much else. Other high-tech contenders, like security and analytics, lack the sex appeal of search engines, not to mention familiarity.

I mean, how many of us really encounter, for example, a network virus detection device in our day-to-day lives? Not many. But search engines are a different story. We all know them and use them, even if we don’t exactly know how they work.

But no matter. The point is that the search for something to get excited about has apparently ended with search. Not that it’s a new thing. Far from it. But it is the next big thing. Can there be any doubt?

Pick a Winner

It’s tempting to want to whip out your money right now, plunking it down on one of the favorites. Should you bet on the new company with the fresh legs and the funny name? Or you could go with the old tried-and-true horse in the barn, the one with the funny name and the exclamation point.

Indeed, both Google and Yahoo! are sound bets. For that matter, Overture and Ask Jeeves may be as well. But wait — do we really have a good handle on how these companies are making money and how long their profitability can last? The whole nexus of advertising and search is so new that even executives at the aforementioned companies admit we’ve only started to test the depths of this market.

Potential Paradigm

That’s good, right? Who doesn’t want to invest in a sector with unknown potential? But why are we so eager to focus on the potential part, and should we be so eager to gloss over the unknown bit?

If history is any guide, a couple of the companies now involved in search will survive and become the big names in the industry. But that doesn’t mean others won’t find their niche, a way to make a few bucks, keep their stock in the mid-teens and retire to the desert.

The future is bright for search, but we shouldn’t let it blind us. If there’s a good, solid business model under all the noise, then it will win out in the end. If not, the forlorn search companies will have plenty of company in the dot-com retirement home.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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