Most figures I found, for the month of October 2012 (Including Mobile):

  • Google’s search market share around 86 to 90% in the United States and 89% globally.
  • Bing is ~7% in the US and ~5% globally.
  • Yahoo 3% US / Baidu 3% globally (China).

Search, as a design pattern requires, at minimum, a box into which you enter words or numbers, and a medium to display results, what is today called a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

(It doesn’t really have to be a page at all, which is why I use the word medium. Siri is a good example. Glass is another. That sort of thing.)

The more places Google can put that box, the better it is for Google. Google came standard with Safari in iOS. Google came standard with Firefox. Google is standard on Chrome. Distribution is a contributing factor.

It isn’t the only one.

There’s the force of habit, and, the ongoing reality that Google continues to generate SERPs that cause a degree of satisfaction that exceeds the search for substitutes.

Recall what life was like in 1997, if you were working with the Internet back then. You’d try AltaVista. You wouldn’t find what you were looking for. You’d try Excite. You wouldn’t find it. You’d try Yahoo!, you wouldn’t find it. Ah, it’s an academic term, so you should have used infoseek. I’ll try infoseek.¬†Dissatisfaction¬†drove you from one site to the other. You probably had nine of these search engines bookmarked, and, you had a habit for each one. Different engines were your go-to engines.

Google got really good at sorting a massive amount of information. They got good at sorting a set of text inputs with another set of text inputs. And, they applied a predictive algorithm against that text input that really predicts your satisfaction with content on the Internet. And they made it dynamic, so that the machine learns as the Internet grows. And, for around 85%+ of us, that was good enough.

They destroyed their competition by performing quantitatively better.

They were rewarded massively for it.

Google is getting really good at sorting you too. You’re the new page. You can be viewed as a collection of things, places, and people. And because they know you, in many cases, they know things you don’t know about yourself, they have the opportunity to maximize your satisfaction with the results.

So, Google has all this domination going on. In terms of old time economics, they’re almost a natural monopoly, sort of like a utility. There’s no technical law against building a new utility to compete, but really, why would you want to?

The whole argument coming up in the EU, from Google’s perspective, will be to argue just how precarious their position is. After all, there are competitors:

For instance:

  • Amazon.com is a major search engine (It has a text box for enterin’ and a SERP for displayin’).
  • Bing (Competes on distribution and decision apps)
  • DuckDuckGo (Competes on privacy)

Given the way that the competitive axes are arranged, it’s far less likely that a major competitor will triumph as the game is played today.

Google owns search. It increasingly owns the hardware that search is executed upon. And, while the EU will do its damage, Google will go on. It’s really good at its core foundation. And, to a large extent, it is behaving exactly as 14 year olds behave.

The fundamental mechanics of search, themselves, don’t appear to be broken. There’s an opportunity for something better, a substitute for search itself.

It’ll be important to pay attention to the crazy margins of the sector, especially people hacking around with the very design pattern of search. That’s where to search for the search substitute.

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I’m Christopher Berry.
I tweet a lot about analytics.