This is clearly the year of ABG - "Anyone But Google." It's inevitable, but why are search engine pundits leading the charge?
The first pundit of note as a decent excuse - Charles Knight has made a name for himself raising awareness of hundreds of alternative search engines. He's done a phenomenal job building that list and gaining a following on his altsearchengines blog, part of the Read/Write Web group where his columns first appeared. He comes off as this Don Quixote figure, even if on occasion he comes off as a bit like a cult leader, as he once wrote a number of people, myself included, seeking someone with "a passion for the cause of the alternative search engines." I'm all for the education, but for causes, I'll stick to City Harvest and the like. Still, I applaud the work he's doing, as he's single-handedly raised visibility for dozens of search engines that deserve to find an audience (and hundreds more that don't).
Not only have I declined to enter into the "true believer" camp of Mr. Knight, but I've been routinely quoted as the defender of the status quo, sort of like Aaron Eckhart's character in Thank You for Smoking. It all started by a brief comment responding to an altsearchengine post on a "Day without Google," where readers were encouraged to break their Google crack habit and try another search engine drug of choice. My comment signaled how crucial the major engines are for allowing me to function:
"I might as well take it as a vacation day. The top 5 are the top 5 for a reason."
A quick Google search (yes, I'm evil) relating to that quote showed 10 mentions, or 97 if you show the omitted and potentially duplicate results, including a mention in the UK's Register. Word travels fast.
I found the quote come up once again in a post on Search Engine Land by none other than the Sultan of Search Engine Marketing himself, Danny Sullivan (maybe Kevin Ryan can be the Shah). He's inspired by Mr. Knight and is publicizing Google-Free Fridays. Yet rather than trying to use this to promote usage of truly alternative engines, he wants his readers to try Yahoo, Windows Live, Ask, and AOL.
I'm not sure my response to Mr. Sullivan's post will get as much play (it's not as pithy), but it's worth sharing here:
This blog caters [Search Engine Land] to search engine marketers, right? Whether one is client-side, at a search engine marketing agency, or even from another search engine, it's in everyone's best interest to check out other search engines from time to time. If you only use one engine, no matter what that engine is, you're not doing your job. Why we need a schedule for this is beyond me.
Full disclosure: I have the Google toolbar and use it religiously. In the Firefox search bar, however, I routinely have one of the other engines as the default so an alternative is easily accessible, and I often take deep dives on the others to see if anyone's offering improvements over the Google standard (see the recent column on Ask.com as an example). I also routinely check out vertical and specialized search engines relating to shopping, health, and other categories.
No matter which of the major engines you use, odds are it's good enough. comScore's rankings of search engine market share don't even include an "other" category. It's great to dive into that "other" category, but if you're already working with search engines in any significant way, you better be using more than one already or you're doing a disservice to your clients.