Updated October 12, 2010Doc Sheldon
Having reviewed some of the history of search, in Search Experience – Then, Part One, it’s obvious that search has evolved considerably in the last twenty years. So if you find yourself occasionally frustrated in searching for something, think how you’d have felt back in ’93 or ’94!
Supposedly, by 2006, Google had indexed over 25 billion web pages. That’s nearly 463,000 TIMES as many as Lycos had, when they launched in 1994.
We’ve come a long way, Baby!
That’s not to say that we don’t still have a long way to go, of course. Some searches can still be challenging. But when you consider the functions that are routinely available to us today, that weren’t even dreamed of back in the day, we don’t have it so bad.
Specialized search of dedicated indexes, like maps, images, videos, news and shopping, plus scholar, blogs, updates and finance… not to mention the ability to see the backlinks to a site, keywords used in searches and pages that are indexed… all these have definite value, whether to regular users or SEOs.
Granted, the results of all the developmental efforts of the search engines’ engineering teams aren’t the fruits of an altruistic campaign to make our lives better. They may possibly have started out that way, but they’ve long since evolved into a massive business plan.
Google, for instance, closed 2009 with an income of 24.5 billion dollars. It’s very doubtful that it was accidental.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Most great advancements come about as a result of businessmen following an opportunity. But it’s also often the case that when huge amounts of money are involved, motivations change. Perhaps that’s not always the case, but it certainly seems to have been true in most instances involving big business, government… even religion. Is it really reasonable to expect Google or Bing to be any different?
So we’re now at a point where search capability has allowed more information than ever before, to be available to any human being on the planet with an internet connection.
This Information Revolution that we’re living through has had more of an impact on our lives than even the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. The progress of the past twenty years has been phenomenal. Yet, we are still struggling with some aspects of search.
First of all, we’re trying to get machines to make quality judgments. That’s asking a lot. In fact, recognizing that fact, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed Pagerank, which effectively abdicated the quality judgment by assigning a value to a page, based upon the “votes” given by other pages linking to it. Other search engines have periodically applied similar algorithms, in order to aid in ranking pages.
Pagerank, as we all know, brought some problems with it, in spite of the fact that at the time, it was a brilliant means of improving search results. Probably the biggest issue with it has been the ease with which people could “play the system”, by exchanging or buying links.
Nevertheless, pagerank has served a purpose, by providing a metric-within-a-metric. How much longer it will continue to be a major factor remains to be seen. Personally, I suspect that a lot of engineering hours have already been invested in an alternative. But such a change won’t be quick or easy.
Today, Google is the clear leader in the global search market, demonstrating a marketshare of over 85% last year. Yahoo boasted a modest 6%, Baidu 3.28%, and Bing only 3.25%, for the same period. All the other search engines each had considerably less than 1%.
Which means that for many, “Google” has become synonymous with “search engine”. Indeed, nobody is likely to suggest that you “Bing it” or “Yahoo it”. The question for some is how long Google will be able to maintain its stranglehold on that market. The new Bing/Yahoo machine, if handled wisely, may eventually be able to gain some better footing there, but unless Google gets really stupid, I don’t think we need to lose any sleep over it.
Besides, both Google and Bing still have their hands full, trying to figure out what to do with social search.
What this means, of course, is that Google will continue to set the IR pace, at least for the foreseeable future. And whatever the engineers at the ‘Plex come up with will probably drive search for some time to come. With over half a million computers involved, and an employee headcount larger than some states, they’re very much THE mover and shaker in the IR industry.