Grow a spine people! You have a giant growing market with just one dominant competitor, not even any real #2. You're going to do clean-tech energy saving software to shut off lightbulbs in high-rises instead? Pfft. Get a stick and try to knock G's crown off.
So here are my tips to get started. These are all about competing with Google's search engine. Of course G is big business now and does a lot of different things. Their advertising business is particularly strong, and exhibits some eBay-like network effects that substantially enhance its defensibility. Still, even if you're going to take that on too, you have to start with a strong base of search driven traffic.
- A conventional attack against Google's search product will fail. They are unassailable in their core domain. If you merely duplicate Google's search engine, you will have nothing. A copy of their product with your brand has no pull against the original product with their brand.
- Duplicating Google's engine is uninteresting anyway. The design and approach were begun a decade ago. You can do better now.
- You need both a great product and a strong new brand. Both are hard problems. The lack of either dooms the effort. "Strong new brand" specifically excludes "search.you.com". The branding and positioning are half the battle.
- You need to position your product to sub-segment the market and carve out a new niche. Or better, define an entirely new category. See Ries on how to launch a new brand into a market owned by a competitor. If it can be done in Ketchup or Shampoo, it can be done in search.
- Forget interface innovation. The editorial value of search is in the index, not the interface. That's why google's minimalist interface is so appealing. Interface features only get in the way.
- Forget about asking users to do anything besides typing two words into a box.
- Users do not click on clusters, or tags, or categories, or directory tabs, or pulldowns. Ever. Extra work from users is going the wrong way. You want to figure out how the user can do even less work.
- Your results need to be in a single column. UI successes like Google and blogging have shown that we don't want multiple columns. Distractions from the middle with junk on the sides corrupt your thinking and drive users away.
- Your product must look different than Google in some way that is deliberately incompatible with their UI, for two reasons. One, if you look the same as them, consumers can't tell how you're different, and then you won't pull any users over. Two, if your results are shown in the same form as Google's, they will simply copy whatever innovations you introduce. You need to do something they can't copy, not because they're not technically capable of doing so, but because of the constraints of their legacy interface on Google.com.
- Your core team will be 2-3 people, not 20. You cannot build something new and different with a big team. Big teams are only capable of duplicating existing technology. The sum of 20 sets of vision is mud.
- Search is more about systems software than algorithms or relevance tricks. That's why Google has all those OS programmers. You need a strong platform to win, you can't just cobble it together as you go like other big web apps.
- Do not fear Google's vast CapEx. You should wish maintenance of that monster on your worst enemies. Resource constraints are healthy for innovation. You're building something new and different anyway.