What’s Wrong with the Iconic ‘Google Search’?

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Is the ‘Google Search’ losing its sheen in the app world? Because ‘search’ isn’t!

The penetration of mobile phones wasn’t fast enough in rural India during the early mobile days over a decade ago. However, the limited users of the handhelds were prompt enough to get carried away with the allurement of the web of free information. For them –long before they could figure out the technicalities of browsers –the gateway to connect with the universe was largely search engines especially Google. The iconic Google search –one of the classic examples of ‘humanisation of tech’, never ceased to entice its users all along.

The scenario, however, has changed today. From an obtrusive shift in googling habit to domain-based search to an app culture, much has changed since then. People are more onto their apps than on web or online search. And the clear victim is Google. The universe of web –that people used to access primarily through Google Search, is gradually getting scrappy. The dark matter, which Google can’t crawl, index and present on search queries that users conduct, on the other side is gradually swelling at an astonishing pace.

With 80% of the world information generated over the last two years alone, the web of crawlable information should have more diverse and democratic. However, the information entombed under social networks, single page architectures and most importantly the ever-growing apps is not only growing but also ushering in a new era where much of the information is getting locked for public access.

With over four petabytes of data being generated by Facebook alone and over five lacs of new users joining the platform every day, the information appearing in search engine result pages (SERPs) isn’t in commensurate with the volume and variety of data being generated today. What happens when platforms such as Facebook and Twitter decide to be inaccessible to Search? After all, why would a reader conduct a web search when there is an app to do just that?

The threats to iconic Google Search
Dark Matter defeats the whole mission of Google which aims to put straight the world’s information and make it handy for everyone. On the flip side is the rise of domain-based search.

The artificial intelligence team of Facebook has been working hard to ferret out the best search tactics for their platform. Lumos visual search system, developed by Facebook recently, can detect objects, scenes, animals, places, and clothes that appear in images or videos – and return relevant search results for users.

With over 500 million tweets and 6,000 tweets every single second that are sent every single day, Twitter too has come up with several measures to filter out the noise and get the most relevant information you want.

Forrester Research found that a third of online users started their product searches on Amazon, compared to 13 percent who started their search from a traditional search site.

ComScore found that product searches on Amazon have grown 73 percent over the last year, while shopping searches on Google have been flat. Indeed, when it comes to search and overall web traffic referrals, Google is still the top referral source.

Facebook is now the top referral source for digital publishers. All this translates to severe implications for Google which is increasingly failing to catch up with the change recently.

The search behemoth makes hundreds of changes in its search algorithm to improve search results for 1.2 trillion searches per year globally. Ironically, some of its major search enhancements were directed towards promoting its own products . The search giant has bought millions of its own ads to display their products atop search results, over those of ad-buying customers. On the business side, too, Google Search revenue saw a decline for the first time in 2016.

From the usability perspective, the nature of ‘online search’ has changed. But Google search per se is still stuck with Blue Links –despite initiatives such as Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph have been largely useful for users.

The big fight to be the king of app search
Mobile search and YouTube are still driving Google’s growth and most these revenues derive from mobile. The mobile era is ruled by two giants –Apples’ iOS and Google’s Android. However, with Apple marking a move into web and app search, the big challenge ahead for Google is to prove its relevance in mobile search.

Apple, which did a revenue sharing agreement with its rival in 2014 and received $1 Billion, is now trying to get more app results in their search tools. Google’s desperation showed up when it released a series of enhancements to embolden search for mobile, including in-App indexing.

Between October 2013 –when the search giant released app indexing for a limited set of publishers, and August 2016, the company released over 13 enhancements to augment the visibility of app content in search. But is it enough for Google to survive in the app era? Probably not!

The last words: Is it time to reimagine search?
Amit Singhal –the then chief of Google Search, in an interview with Recode said, ‘Google will not only survive the transition to mobile apps, but will thrive in it.’ However, the story looks different today with new approaches of search coming up. Jelly Search –created by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and recently acquired by Pinterest, reimagines search as a social network which gets you answers from real people.

When Google first launch semantic search, it was a major search breakthrough which was not only competent enough to decipher complex queries, it also helped users find the most relevant information.

Can Google turn the tide for one more time before companies like Apple or any other disruptor makes a serious entry? Because ‘search’ will continue to flourish, even if there is no Google!

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