There once was a time, and for many people it still exists, when Google was the place that you went in order to search; there was no alternative. To be fair, Big G still owns most of the market place; some figures for last year - Australian use of Google is at 93% of searches, Germany is the same, the UK is at 89% while in the US it's at 67%. It's perfectly clear that Google isn't going away any time soon, but there are a few interesting developments that make me think that Big G's hold on the market is not as secure as they would like us to think. Let me explain...
Google is coming under more and more scrutiny in Europe. We've had the 'right to be forgotten' nonsense, which has affected what and how Google shows us results, and I don't think it's for the better either. More importantly than that, Günther H. Oettinger, a German official and the European Union’s incoming commissioner for digital economy and society, has assailed Google for having too big a presence in Europe, and speaks of “cuts” in the company’s market power. Germany wants to see if it can classify Google as a vital part of the country’s infrastructure, and thus make it subject to heavy state regulation. Spain is less than pleased with Google's news functionality, resulting in the company choosing to shutter its service there, although even the Spanish newspapers want it back.
The effect of other search engines is also going to start to take its toll as well. For example, Google used to boast that it could predict flu outbreaks because of what people search for when. However, it now seems that Twitter and other social media platforms may well be rather better at this than the old warhorse. I'd also say that in my opinion Twitter is better at picking out news trends quicker than Google as well - it's certainly the place that I look for news before Google.
Then we've got Facebook of course. For the first time ever, Facebook Page owners uploaded more videos directly to Facebook than they did via sharing from YouTube videos, according to new data from Socialbakers, a company that tracks social media data. On Facebook videos play automatically, you see them directly in your news stream and for advertisers, Facebook drives more engagement than YouTube. Moreover, if you're taking a video, you probably want to share it with your friends and colleagues, so by posting it to Facebook you can pretty much be sure that's whats going to happen - and adding it to YouTube is a bit of an afterthought. Facebook is also ramping up their search engine; it's now far easier to search for information than ever before, and there are about 40 different filters to slice and dice the content. Of course at the moment this is really focussed on your own network, rather than on website results, and that can be argued as both a good thing and a bad one, depending on what you're looking for, and how much you trust your network. But if say I'm looking for somewhere nice to eat in a city that I haven't been to before, am I going to trust the results on Google, or am I going to be asking my friends for their opinions? There's always been a tendancy for people to ask people that they know, and that means Facebook. Very importantly of course, your Facebook search keeps you on Facebook, which means that you're seeing more Facebook adverts and may, just may, click on one. Conversely, if you're on Google and you do a search, you leave Google behind. If Google has done a good search for you, Google doesn't make any money because you're not inclined to click on an advert. On the other hand, if the search results are not so good, you may look at some ads and click on one, making Google money. So if Google is good at what it is perceived to be - search - it doesn't make money, but if it's not quite up to speed, it does. That's a nasty dilemma for anyone to be in.
It doesn't end there of course, because Google has always focussed on web sites and pages. That was great when that's what we had available to us, but now we have a much wider range of resources - our social networks, our smartphones that use search devices like Siri, or the apps that pull up the content that we need directly, without Google's intervention. Google has of course attempted to fight back against (in particular) Facebook, but has meant with little success. We had Google Wave and Buzz, both of which were a disaster, and now we've got Google+ which is better (mainly because of the communities and hangouts options) but hangouts is now being made more easily accessible, and I suspect that'll happen to the communities angle, or if it doesn't I suspect that they'll shutter it. Never mind how widely it's used the bottom dollar for Google is always 'does it make money?' and things that are answering in the negative tend to have a fairly short life span.
So Facebook search is developing apace - and their recent decision to drop Bing and use their own search tool is only going to increase the pressure on Google. There are over a trillion posts available on Facebook, which is a lot of data, and the more that it can be searched - either the public posts or your own private/friends posts - the more people will use it. However, let's bring Apple into the mix. Their agreement with Google is expiring next year, and both Yahoo and Bing are keen to get into the act instead. If you currently use Siri, you'll already using Bing, since it powers the utility. Now, while Siri doesn't really act like a search engine at the moment, there's no reason why it couldn't, and there are rumours out there which suggest that Apple is now building its own search engine. If this is true (and there's plenty of speculation on both sides of the coin) this is going to further weaken Google. Alternatively Apple might simply be beefing up its local search capabilities, but even so, if I'm out for the day and I want to find the local comic shop, if I can get that from Apple/Siri, why would I think of using Google? And if I'm not thinking of using Google, well...
Then there's social media content. I could easily fling figures at you, but there's little point since they'd be out of date by the time you read them. Suffice to say there's so much data being produced on a daily/hourly basis that Google or any of the other traditional search engines simply could not keep up with the insane task of indexing it. If I want to see what's happening on Twitter I can either use their own search function, or more likely I'll go across to Topsy for that. If I want to find out what someone is talking about in a blog, I'll perhaps try something like Icerocket. Interestingly, Google Blog Search was shut down on May 26, 2014, which is further cutting them off from social space, not being them back into it. Google's attitude is very contradictory here - it wants to be involved with social media, hence G+, but it's making it harder to find social media content by strangling its own products. This leads one to wonder that if they're not so interested in blogging, how much longer is the Blogger product going to be around? I think it's unlikely that they'll can it, but I've given up trying to predict what Google will do next to be honest.
All of these developments - an increasing use of social media, integration of search into mobile phones, and continued Facebook attacks will continue to weaken Google. The less that we use websites to get the information that we need, the less we'll want to use Google. The less we use Google, the more advertisers will go to wherever it is that we've gone, cutting down on their revenue. Now, I'm not for a single moment going to start the hyperbole on 'Google killers' or 'the death of Google', but I do think that unless Google really understands social media far more than they appear to at the moment, and move away from the idea of websites being of paramount importance, Google will decrease in value as a search tool.