Can a Guy Named Jimmy Wales Kill Google?

Dennis Faas's picture

Along comes Jimmy Wales with a $4 million (not billion) investment from Bessemer Ventures, an investment from Amazon of an undisclosed amount, and some private money from a handful of angel investors that include Marc Andreesen (cofounder of Netscape), Josh Kopelman (, Mitch Kapor (Lotus), and Ron Conway (an early investor in Google, PayPal and Ask Jeeves). And while no one knows the exact amount of funding that Jimmy has received, it's probably safe to guess that, altogether, it's less than $100 million.

In a relatively short span of technology history, Google has achieved revenues of $15 billion (about half of Microsoft and roughly double that of Yahoo!), a market cap of $200 billion (about 2/3 that of Microsoft and six times that of Yahoo!), and it has $13 billion in cash. That's formidable! (Source:

But Jimmy has the idea that he's going to compete with Google and Yahoo! He's going to build a search engine, construct a search algorithm and have his own Web crawlers running around the Web gathering data.

Jimmy, however, is going to do it just a bit differently than did Google or Yahoo! who relied on technology and mathematics as the foundation of their search. He's going to do it in the same way that Wikipedia does it: by allowing technology enthusiasts to assist in screening and ranking search results. His search engine will be based on the same type of "community" model that Wikipedia uses.

According to Jimmy, the big search engines are broken. They're broken "for the same reason that propriety software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency." (Source: Wales argues that humans will always produce more useful and relevant results than a machine because humans have better editorial judgement. (Source:

Can he do it? He's already done it. The public site was launched January 7. But don't expect immediate results. Jimmy warns that it will take a while to build up a meaningful array of data; it required a few years for Wikipedia to get going, he expects the same delay from Wikia's search tool. But, well, think about it -- today Wikipedia contains 8.2 million entries in 253 languages (compared to the Encyclopedia Brittanica which contains about 500 thousand entries). If grows in any way like Wikipedia, he might just be the mouse that roared at Google.

Remember, this is the high tech industry we're talking about. It's the same industry that has seen a few other giant killers topple such companies as Visicorp, Osborne, Digital Research, Digital Equipment, and Ashton-Tate. Crazier things have happened...

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