Still Searching for More Search Users

Amid the growing interest in Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, and TechCrunch’s enthusiasm about stealth start-up, Blekko, it seems like the right time to take a look at how some of the much-hyped search engine start-ups over the past year have done.

All in all, it’s been disappointing. The chart below – sourced from – show that SearchMe and Mahalo have about 2.8 million unique U.S. visitors a month, while Cuil is struggling with 126,720 and Wiki Search is barely alive with 80.955. Meanwhile, Wolfram Alpha – the latest overly-hyped search engine – hasn’t been live long enough for Compete to gather enough data.

Of the group below, it is interesting to see that SearchMe has shown good traction since November, while Mahalo seems to be holding its own. Cuil, meanwhile, has to rank as one of the most over-hyped and least successful search start-ups, while Wolfram Alpha has potential to be a Cuil, although the it’s still early days.

Without a doubt, launching a search engine is a perilous exercise, not only because you’re going head to head with Google. The benchmark for new players is very high, and there’s significant potential for disappointment if the service works well but not in a much better or different way than Google.

Still, there are entrepreneurs who believe there’s a different and/or search engine to be developed keeping. And they seem to be able to raise financing from VCs who believe that a viable alternative to Google can emerge, if not a Google-killer.

Clearly, part of the challenge is managing expectations, and trying to figure out the right balance between attracting enough attention from the media, bloggers and users, while staying fairly low profile. TechCrunch provides some insight into what Blekko is trying to do, even though talking with TechCrunch could blow Blekko super-stealth approach.

(For more Blekko, check out Screenwerk, which believes Blekko “will quickly “imprint” on its intended audience and that they will embrace the search engine in earnest”. The photo is from Blekko’s home page.)

So far, I like how Microsoft is approaching the market with Bing. While it’s impossible tell from a three minute video about how a new service will actually perform, Bing appears to be different enough from Google that consumers will give it a shot. It’s impossible to tell whether Blekko has potential but it’s definitely intriguing.

Update: I think Seth Godin is making a mistake in dismissing Bing as “trying to be next next Google”.

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