Grabble goes to the ‘dead pool’ …

2009 April 20
by Ismail Dhorat

Justin Hartman, just announced this morning he would be laying Grabble to rest. Grabble is a search engine that was founded by him in 2006 which has now been moved to the GPL based 4hour search, and will be hosted on Google App engine.

Almost three years later and I’ve been debating what to do with Grabble. For the last two months the site hasn’t even been operational (well web search anyway) and while I didn’t want to close it down completely I also had to face the reality that Grabble was never going to dominate and I simply did not have the time to maintain it any longer. – Justin Comments

Grabble, joins some of the other ‘search startups’ that were never able to achieve any kid of success, for example Jonga, has been promising that version 2 of the search engine will be “live shortly” for over a year now.


Search engines in South Africa have a long history, first we had Ananzi, then Advark came along and then google came along and practically killed all of the search engines. About the only search engine that is most likely used would be’s search since its integrated into all their intertnet properties, which is the largest site in South Africa.

So what does this mean for other search engines? Can small independent search engines like grabble or bongoza compete with the mighty Google?

Well, not really Google have built years of competitive advantage with their search engine technology and data centres. It would be extremely difficult for a independent startup to compete. Also the capital requirements to achieve the scale that google has would be extremely high, most likely more then African VC firms could handle.

So how does a local indie search engine compete?

There is one area, that google could fall short, and that is in understand the needs of the local market. Localized google search engines are all the same, none cater for the unique requirements for local conditions. The way best way to compete would be to figure out what these unique local requirements are, and then cater for this. Offer a compelling enough offering and you will see success. Off the top of my head, something that would work in Africa would be Mobile/SMS integration. Things like SMS based job searching or SMS based classifieds. These are solutions that caters for the market.

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