What if Users Had to Select a Search Engine?

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Browsers Should Have No Default Search Engine - Initial Charge

This certainly wouldn’t solve all of our problems. Google would still be, by far, the most popular search engine. But not having a default and introducing awareness to users that there are other options would be a huge step in the right direction.

I think this is a lovely idea, but I’m not sold on it actually changing anything. Android does this today in the EU and it appears to have done nothing yet to change how many people use Google (yet). In fact, Google’s share of the market in Europe is even higher than it is here in the US.

The hard truth is that people use Google because it’s good. As much as I like DuckDuckGo, I kind of view it like Google Maps vs Apple Maps. I like Apple Maps a lot, but when I absolutely positively must get somewhere new, I’m opening Google Maps. Likewise, if I just need to find something as quick as possible, I’m throwing a “!g” in front of my DuckDuckGo search to just do it in Google.

Maybe I should give Bing a try. Maybe it’s gotten quite a bit better since its early days. Microsoft is making basically all good moves in my book, so maybe they’re doing good things in search too.

The challenge is that Google search is a self-perpetuating machine that is able to improve because of how well it’s collected the world’s data. It’s able to do this in ways competitors just can’t. They don’t have the data and they can’t gain that data any faster than Google can. So how does someone come along and make something better?

I think the only answer is the hardest one: someone needs to do to Google what Google did to AltaVista back when it was new…someone needs to completely change the game in what we expect from search. But again, Google has done well here not to give future innovators much to grab onto.

Google used to show you sites that had the information you need. Then they took that information (stealing it sometimes) and just showed it to you without the need to go anywhere else. They then made it so you could ask your questions in natural language. They’ll even sell you a cheap little puck to answer those questions around your house. What’s the next thing? I don’t know, but I would put good money on Google already exploring it and releasing it before anyone else gets a foothold in the market.

No company is dominant forever, so inevitably Google search will be just a memory that we wax poetic about to our grandkids. In the short run, making people more aware of other search engines might move the needle a little, but ultimately we just need something to be better, and I’m excited to see what that is, even if it’s still a ways off.