Monday, April 17, 2023

The biggest threat to Google

Nico Grant at the New York Times writes that Google is furiously adding features to its web search, including personalized search and personalized information recommendations, in an "panic" that "A.I. competitors like the new Bing are quickly becoming the most serious threat to Google’s search business in 25 years."

Now, I've long been a huge fan of personalized search (eg. [1] [2]). I love the idea of recommending information based on what interested you in the past. And I'm glad to see so many interested in AI nowadays. But I don't think this is the most serious threat to Google's search business.

The biggest threat to Google is if their search quality drops to the point that switching to alternatives becomes attractive. That could happen for a few reasons, but misinformation is what I'd focus on right now.

Google seems to have forgotten how they achieved their #1 position in the first place. It wasn't that Google search was smarter. It was that Altavista became useless, flooded with stale pages and spam because of layoffs and management dysfunction, so bad that they couldn't update their index anymore. And then everyone switched to Google as the best alternative.

The biggest threat to Google is their ongoing decline in the usefulness of their search. Too many ads, too much of a focus on recency over quality, and far too much spam, scams, and misinformation. When Google becomes useless to people, they will switch, just like they did with Altavista.

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