For many years now, Google has remained dominant in the realm of search engines. Others have tried, but none have had the rampant success that Google has enjoyed over the past decade and a half. But can Google stay perched on its throne forever?
Currently sitting atop total searches at 66.9 percent (followed far off by Bing at 14.8 percent) and mobile searches at 89.9 percent (followed far off by Yahoo at 5.8 percent), it doesn’t seem like Google has much to fear in terms of losing its market share, right? Wrong.
The rising problem for Google is not necessarily the competition of another web search engine, such as Bing or Yahoo. Instead, it is guaranteed to be affected at least in some part by the evolving nature of traditional search toward the social search. Social search essentially means combing through or integrating search results based on posts and media shared via social media.
Think about it. How many people have you seen ask for suggestions from their Facebook friends about what movie to see or what restaurant to try? How many times have you searched for the hours or address of a business by checking its Facebook page? And how often have you used #hashtags to find more information about a particular topic on Twitter? Chances are, you or someone you know has done all of these—and you’re not alone.
Unlike one of its direct competitors, Bing, Google is not making aggressive strides toward the incorporation of social elements into its searches. Bing is bringing in more information from outside social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, into its search results, keeping it relevant as users begin to shift toward social searches. Google did launch Google Social Search in 2009, but it has never gotten the traction or success that the company had hoped for—and that was pretty much its last effort ever since.
Not embracing social search entirely could leave Google in the dust as social media continues to thrive. Social search is firmly upon us, and several other companies have strategies in the pipeline for taking advantage of social search as it grows and changes.
Facebook is perhaps Google’s biggest contender in terms of social search. Back in January, on Facebook’s Q4 2013 earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg all but declared war Google in terms of who will reign as supreme search engine giant. Business Insider reports three facts that Zuckerberg pointed out during the call:
- Facebook has a bigger “index” of data on hand than any other search engine (though Zuckerberg’s definition of index is unclear, and Google indexes every page of the Internet, this could be debatable).
- Facebook’s artificial intelligence unit is working to make that data available through Graph Search, Facebook’s search engine.
- The final product will be rolled out on mobile devices so that people can ask Facebook for advice and solve their problems using voice recognition on their phones.
This, Zuckerberg said, is part of a 10-year plan which involves a dedicated AI research group whose goal is to comprehend and translate user content in a way that is viable for searches and answering questions people have.
He said, “So these are some pretty big tasks in AI that are things that we have teams that are working on that will need to be researched over time, and will have obvious implications for the products that we do, but over time the real value will be if we can understand the meaning of all the content that people are sharing, that we can just provide much more relevant experiences for people across everything that we do.”
These goals are in addition to and an expansion of Facebook’s Graph Search, released in January 2013, which is a search tool that allows users to search across Facebook’s database based on users’ interests. Graph Search is not web search, Zuckerberg was clear to point out upon its release, as it shows private information that isn’t available in web search. But these intended AI upgrades to Graph Search will revolutionize Facebook’s search engine potential and give Google something to worry about.
The next biggest social media giant by far is Twitter (besides Pinterest), and its global search capabilities may also take a bite out of Google’s large slice of the search engine pie. Twitter differs from Google in that it is focused on search results from Tweets within its own network rather than the entire web, but it differs from Facebook as well.
Global reach versus privacy separates Twitter from Facebook. When you perform a search on Facebook, Graph Search pulls up results from the user’s personal network of Facebook friends or a group that the user belongs to. Twitter, however, is not limited to only a user’s friends, and instead searches the entire network’s Tweets for pertinent information, unless the Tweet is protected. Seeking Alpha calls Twitter “a crowd sourcing search engine.”
Another difference between Facebook and Google versus Twitter is the local aspects that the former two companies provide in their searches. However, Twitter has recently acquired Spindle, which does take care of the local element of its searches by supplying users with geographically relevant information and happenings as well.
As more people move toward social search, Twitter will play a major role in how people perform general searches in the future. This cuts into Google’s user base, as the social network will be able to provide both global and localized searches, much like Google, except that this information will also be coming from a collection of users’ personal thoughts and recommendations rather than those extracted from the web.
Even Apple is getting in on the social search game. Just a few months ago, the primarily hardware-based tech company acquired Topsy Labs, a Twitter and social media search platform, for more than $200 million. It’s clear that instead of attempting the difficult task of developing its own wildly successful social media network, Apple is choosing to integrate with other social networks—still being social, but not necessarily based around its own network like Google did.
Apple already developed its own search engine in Siri, with which it has incorporated Bing (and its social search integration). Now having bought Topsy, and with other possible social network-related acquisitions in the future, Apple has poised itself to take advantage of the growing social search trend.