Month: November 2011

How and Why Google Will Die

So, we got a homework assignment to figure out what would/could be a “Google-killer”. I think I took this assignment a little too seriously, and it snowballed into a blogpost.

(Disclaimer: Many smart, rich people are investing a hell of a lot of effort and resources on this question, so obviously the following will be a super-simplification and shallow assessment of a literally million-dollar-question. In fact, I believe many already agree with the following prediction. But hey, it still answers the question).

So, what will make Google fall? Let’s try to deconstruct this logically. We’ll start with the assumptions to frame the discussion.

Assumptions:

0. Google is “King of the Web”. Hence, we are interested in when it will not be so anymore.

1. Nobody lasts forever, especially not as king. Not the Roman / British / US Empire, not AOL, MySpace, or Microsoft. Not even MC Hammer. This means Google, inevitably, will fall back behind someone else – in terms of prestige, cash, technological-political power, etc. We are thus discussing when and why this will (first) happen.

1.1. Basic internet assumptions, such as consumers have no loyalty and will switch in a second, once functionality / fashion is better elsewhere.

2. Google has many good services (Android, Maps, Gmail, Docs, etc.) but its core functionality and main source of revenue is [massive use of] its search engine. Hence, we can logically deduct that ‘the fall of Google’ will be directly related to the fall of its search engine.

2.1. Google’s reserves of talented manpower may, in some constellation, allow them to reinvent themselves in other fields, but that’s not what this discussion is about.

2.2. Other-pages-based-AdWords, another key revenue generater, is not based on the search capabilities, and so Google has much less of a competitive edge there.

So, [why] will people ever stop using Google (the search engine), or at least so much? The answer: social search. I will dispense this advise. (I think to some extent, this is Mark Zuckerberg’s answer, too, by the way.)

Google was born (and raised) in the Web 1. The Web 1 was an impersonal Wild West. Remember those days? Lycos, Altavista, spanning marquees, spam all over the place. It took a while, but then it took off – everybody was on the web. Visit-my-store.com. Plumbers.ca. Hey-mom-whats-for-dinner.net. It was a matter of time before Yahoo’s unscalable directory-structure attempt to classify the web would run of space (as an arguable metric, we’ve seen about a hundred million new *domains* each year for the past ten years. src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WIntHosts1981-July2011.jpg) and search engines would become rulers – the Oracles of the Web, those who can point you in the right direction. Emerging as Alpha dog in the pack, Google would take the lead, and we would turn it for anything we needed.

3. We can reasonably assume people will keep “looking for things”. But – it won’t be on Google.

Already, most of us [the Internet generations, anyway] do not need to turn to Google for light-weight entertainment. Or for the news, both global and local. You know where I get those? That’s right – in my Facebook feed.

The Web 1 seemed like it would be here forever. It wasn’t. Wikipedia and YouTube were the first wave (some would say GeoCities, but that’s more tongue-in-cheek), and then user-generated-content was all the way. Soon enough, it was the Social Web 2.0., where we were writing *about ourselves*. FB would emerge as the uncontested current king in that realm, of course (but see assumption #1). Quickly, we are in the share-era. If you’re a young person in a Western country, you are viewing your friends ‘shares’. News items, both global and local – some of which would never make it to a major news site, even less so to Google (or, from another perspective, to your consciousness). Corporate, NGOs, and Cause groups started opening their own FB pages, and you could get their news and entertainment, too. Serious competition for a ‘pull’ search engine that could (let’s say) give you better results for a specific query, but still not vying for the exact same turf. I mean, you’re not going to find a plumber on Facebook, are you?

Are you?

4. My friends/contacts, by definition, are those who share my interests

Well, why not find a plumber on FB? I may not usually ‘share’  *Sella Rafaeli used Jake’s Plumbing Service and paid 120$ for it*, but that’s because FB is still a ‘push’ system, and I don’t want to “spam my friends’ feed”, as they say. We certainly share social information on such services, but usually it’s an unstructured pull system. I wouldn’t mind this information being stored, to be accessible to my friends (perhaps anonymously?). When a friend of mine searches for a plumber – today, this is done manually by, yes, FB-posting “I am looking for a good plumber, can anyone recommend one?” and seeing friends’ responses. If I could see plumbers my friends had used (either in a final, processed form, or just a reference to pages they had viewed themselves) I would be interested in this more than other arbitrary page A with the word ‘plumber’, even if many other pages B, C would link to page A with a ‘plumber’ link. If Joe orders a pizza online, he probably won’t push-‘share’ it or even ‘review’ it. But if his friend Beth orders one tomorrow, she’d be happy to see where Joe had ordered from, how much it cost, etc. Joe doesn’t even have to be involved in Beth’s search – his previous actions will help her search query. (Privacy would be an issue, but a solvable one.)

This is most obviously true for local services, entertainment, and news, but then, most everything is (socially) local: If I am a software engineer, I will be socially linked with other social engineers, and searches for ‘Java LinkedList example’ will be probably be better tuned for myself by *their* picks than by the rest of the world’s. Same goes with any other profession, hobby, or interest. If you care about ‘D’, you probably have social contacts that are into ‘D’, too. Of course, social search does not have to replace anything – it will/could augment a ‘regular’ search algorithm (or the other way around, actually).

I am, naturally, not the first one to realize this. Well, I did put the disclaimer. This is one reason FB is pushing out their ‘like’ functionality, and Google’s “+1” counter. Both are primarily integrated with their social network, but also affect the search engine (or FB’s ‘bing’ functionality). However, each one has a different strength. Google has the better search algorithm, and, realizing the power of the social contacts, has made their move with Google+. FB, still the king of social, does not put much effort/functionality into general searching, and is not viewed by most as a search engine. In this way, FB has not really made their major offensive move yet.

And it’s a tricky one, it is:

* Privacy balance (I don’t want my all my social contacts to see *everything* I do)

* Pull / Push balance (don’t force me to choose whether to log and share every page I see, but let me choose for some)

* Categorization balance (different friends have good taste for different areas)

But the end result is a known variable. When I search for a plumber, pizza, a hiking trail, political commentary, or technology, I don’t want/need to see what the most popular page *in the world* is. I want the popular pages *in my network*, first. Since Google does not control the social-networking world, it should be very afraid, as once FB integrate an unintrusive way to share (by ‘pull’) arbitrary web pages, search will change forever.

Go ahead, take a look at your own search history. How many of those searches would be that much better if you had your friends recommendations, first?

5. Why would I search with Google, if I could search my friends just the same?

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