The Next Decade: Can Google Stay On Top?

There’s a feeling in the air of change — from one era to another and, more precisely, from one type of media culture to another. The hearings on Capitol Hill yesterday on the “future of journalism” reflect this transition in which traditional media are under intense pressure and fighting for their lives in some cases. These changes are not simply being brought on by the recession but by the pace of technology development and the corresponding tectonic shifts in the consumption of media.

Just as Microsoft was and is synonymous with the PC, Google has come to be synonymous with the internet in popular culture. But with the rise of mobility and “the cloud” the question arises: ten years from now will Google still be on top?

There has also been a paradox around search. It can’t and won’t remain the same in this dynamic environment, and although there have been some UI changes (as well as infrastructure changes to support those), it has been hard to imagine what the future would look like exactly. Sergey Brin, writing this years’ Founder’s Letter, addressed the state of Google but also looked into the future of search:

I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that “understands” more of the queries and documents than we do today. Others claim to have accomplished this, and Google’s systems have more smarts behind the curtains than may be apparent from the outside, but the field as a whole is still shy of where I would have expected it to be. Part of the reason is the dramatic growth of the web — for any particular query, it is likely there are many documents on the topic using the exact same vocabulary. And as the web grows, so does the breadth and depth of the curiosity of those searching. I expect our search engine to become much “smarter” in the coming decade.

So too will the interfaces by which users look for and receive information. While many things have changed, the basic structure of Google search results today is fairly similar to how it was ten years ago. This is partly because of the benefits of simplicity; in fact, the Google homepage has become increasingly simple over the years: http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2006-04-21-n63.html. But we are starting to see more significant changes in search interfaces. Today you can search from your cell phone by just speaking into it and Google Reader can suggest interesting blogs without any query at all. It is my expectation that in the next decade our searches and results will look very different than they do today.

One of the most striking changes that has happened in the past few years is that search results are no longer just web pages. They include images, videos, books, maps, and more. From the outset, we realized that to have comprehensive search we would have to venture beyond web pages. In 2001, we launched Google Image Search and via Google Groups we made available and searchable the most comprehensive archive of Usenet postings ever assembled (800 million messages dating back to 1981).

Larry Dignan thinks the reference in this letter to “a search engine that ‘understands’” is an indirect reference to Wolfram/Alpha. (it could equally be about claims made by Kosmix, Hakia, Powerset [Microsoft] and a couple of others.) In terms of the future of search, Twitter and other “Help Engines” could also represent a compelling new direction the market and industry could go.

Back to Google: today the company held a press briefing before Google’s annual shareholder meeting. It featured Dave Drummond, SVP, corporate development; Susan Wojcicki, VP product management; Kent Walker, general counsel; and Marissa Mayer, VP search products. They fielded an array of queries on everything from Eric Schmidt’s continued membership on the Apple board (he hasn’t considered resigning) to YouTube (“eventually [it will] be a successful and profitable business”). Here’s a factual rundown from both AllThingsD and TechCrunch (I wasn’t present).

There were no revelations apparently, though Eric Schmidt again pointed to the netbook arena as one that would see some Google-friendly developments in the near future.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Business Issues | Google: Critics | Google: Employees | Google: General | Google: Mobile | Google: News | Google: Universal Search

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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