Google may be the biggest search company on earth. But if you stop
to think about it, Google actually owns a miniscule market share.
You might argue (after googling it) that according to comScore, Google has 66.9% U.S. market share — that’s 91 million people a day. You might also point out
that the very word in the Oxford English Dictionary to describe an Internet
search is the transitive verb, “to google, ” added in 2006.
These indicators of monopoly may technically be true. However, the
market in discussion includes only traditional search engines where Google,
like a colossus, dominates the others. Yet these traditional search engines are
just a fraction of what people use to conduct searches.
Just stop and think about all the searches you conduct daily. You
look for a book on Amazon. You search for flights on Priceline. You connect
with a friend on Facebook. You worry about your symptoms on WebMD. You pick out
a nice bouquet at 1800Flowers. You recruit a potential employee on LinkedIn,
and follow a trend on Twitter. You dig up that video of a bike-riding dog on
HuffPost while look up a writer on the New York Times. You search for a song to
buy on iTunes, and plan a movie night on Fandango.
There is an exponential growth of vertical search engines aiming
to carve out a niche by catering to specific needs. The incredible fact that
millions of people walk around with a smartphone has increased the demand for
customized, localized information.
In addition to searching on the traditional web, you probably
spend a lot of time searching through your own information. You look for a
phrase within a legal document. You search for a contact to call on your phone.
You search tomorrow’s agenda on your calendar. You rummage for a past email.
There are also searches in your life that are taking place automatically.
Your car’s GPS is doing searches to help get you to your destination. Your
phone is searching for the best connection it can get to a radio tower. Your
social networks are seeking out the best contact suggestions for you to
And, of course, we’re constantly searching that classic search
engine, the one used by the likes of Plato and Aristotle — our own brain —
for memories and information. Like the vertical solutions above, our brain’s
search algorithm is evolving and iterating with the times. A 2011 study by Harvard University concluded
that we are “becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into
interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by
knowing where the information can be found.
Google’s search engine is just a tiny fraction of the searches the
average American does every week. This
is why Google’s biggest initiatives are Apps (Calendar, Email, Contacts, documents),
Android, and Google+. They want a much
bigger piece of a lucrative and yet untapped search market. And guess what? So
do Apple and Facebook, and every other self-respecting technology company.
Google may seem untouchable in general search, but it is far away
from perfectly fulfilling your every need. Innovative search services that
choose their battles wisely will enjoy healthy freedom to grow.
If you narrowly define Google as a search engine, it is definitely a monopoly. It has pricing power a monopoly would have. The only thing preventing Google from completely dominating prices is Bing.