Once upon a time there was a search engine named Google, which grew and grew, not only as a search engine but also as a repository of other information that people might want. There was Google Maps and Google Books. There was Knol and there was Youtube. Then there were Android cell phones. More recently, as Google grew, it started to imitate it competitors.

For social networking there was Google+, which still thinks that it can take on Facebook. For people wanting to book flights, there is now the option of going to Google Flight Search, bypassing other sites like Kayak and Orbitz. For people looking for a place to dine out,  there’s sure to be something right down the road, now that Google has purchased Zagat, an acquisition that will certainly put a new face on Google Places. Needless to say, Yelp (which Google also wanted to buy) isn’t too happy about that.

Some of the companies most affected by the rise of Google have organized in a new group called Fair Search, arguing that Google’s anti-competitive behavior poses “a threat to innovation and consumer choice.” Though it’s mostly a consortium of travel-oriented sites, it has the support of Microsoft, whose Bing and Hotmail have been affected adversely by Google Search and Gmail. They argue that Google uses its dominance of search “to foreclose competitors from the search marketplace.” It’s an anti-trust argument—something that Microsoft knows quite a lot about.

“The concern is that Google is in many ways the main street of the Internet,” says Kayak’s Robert Birge. “They’ve taken all of the real estate that anyone will ever click on and put a Google product there.”

These concerns are what have prompted the Federal Trade Commission to take a closer look at Google’s practices. They want to know whether Google really offers the best search results for its users (Google says it does) and doesn’t simply knock competitors off by giving preference to its own sites in search results.

At the same time, the FTC also wants to know whether Google is blocking ads from its competitors. Worse, perhaps, they want to know whether Google is upping the prices on its competitors, particularly Microsoft.

Of course, not all of Google’s rivals are complaining. Some actually welcome the chance to take on Google and prove that they can do better. One of these people is Richard Skrenta, CEO of Blekko, a search engine that has hardly made a mark yet. He claims that he can offer better search results than Google by cutting out content farms and limiting results to content from some 3 billion “trusted sites.” When asked about how to best respond to Google’s dominance, he said, “Let’s let entrepreneurs, technology and good old-fashioned innovation deal with Google.”

When the FTC first began its investigation, Erik Schonfeld of TechCrunch argued that, “If a full-blown antitrust investigation does get launched, it may be a signal that Google’s market power has peaked.” Even Google has a serious competitor these days in Facebook, and a decade from now Facebook may have a serious competitor of its own. In the meantime, let the best sites win.

Read More at the Wall Street Journal.
Read More at Business Week.
Read More at Information Week.