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by Stephen Logan on 8th November 2011
For many, there is only one name in search: Google. Therefore it might come as some surprise to hear that the Chairman of the very same company claiming that it’s not ‘dominant’.
The intrigue only deepens when you delve into the statistics. Here in the UK, Google is in complete control of the search market, hogging 90% of all queries. In the US things are a little closer, with the Big G enjoying a meagre 65% share. These figures are mirrored in countries across the world (although Russia and China are notable exceptions), which to most people would constitute market dominance; not Eric Schmidt though.
In this case, context really could be the biggest determining factor. If Schmidt was talking amongst friends, colleagues or investors, it’s unlikely he’d be quite so quick to downplay the achievements of the search engine. However, this wasn’t an off-hand comment to a receptive audience. In fact, it was a detailed response to a federal committee who are investigating the company to determine whether it has an unfair competitive advantage. As such, it probably wouldn’t have been the ideal time to start crowing about the achievements of Google.
But is there any credence in what he said?
Well, Eric Schmidt correctly highlighted that the search engine has a number of rivals. This includes established competitors such as Microsoft and Yahoo as well as newer ones, including Twitter and Facebook. He also pointed to the latest Apple gizmo, the voice activated Siri, as an example of how technology is evolving and users are finding new ways to search for information beyond Google.
There is little doubt that Bing is a viable alternative to using Google in a conventional search capacity. Just because only a fraction of Internet users choose to use it is not the fault of the market leader. There are also smaller engines with their own unique algorithm and way of presenting results being developed. DuckDuckGo being a good example. Even MC Hammer is getting in on the action, announcing that WireDoo will be launched next year to compete directly with Google.
Whilst these competitors rarely get huge traction, they do help to show that there are alternatives and companies can prosper in the shadow of Google.
Social networking offers a new way for people to find information in real-time. However, as of yet, they are not a search engine per se. You might look for news and follow various links to products and articles, but they aren’t yet able to provide the same comprehensive service that Google offer.
The reason why the Mountain View-based company are under such scrutiny isn’t simply because of their ‘dominance’, but how they choose to wield the power it affords them. They control the fate of thousands of companies who rely on search engine traffic to drive profits. So when somebody gets the boot, it’s understandable that they get angry and the finger (rightly or wrongly) gets pointed at Google.
Equally, when Google start to buy up new sites and expand the services that they offer, this can have a huge impact on existing businesses in that area. In recent years they’ve begun comparing flight prices, indexing homes for sale and even providing the best rates on credit cards. By providing these details they can effectively ensure that people never need to look beyond their SERPs, thus reducing the traffic through to the sites in their index.
This kind of online totalitarianism is what has drawn the ire of governments and businesses the world over. It’s why they are constantly embroiled in antitrust suits and attract criticism from all quarters.
I would strongly argue that Google is dominant, maybe not in all fields, but certainly when it comes to search. However, it is not yet a monopoly. Even if their services overlap with those of other companies and they have the final say on where a site ranks, alternatives are still available. There is nothing preventing users from wandering elsewhere online to get their information. The fact that 90% choose to search through Google in the UK is neither here nor there – it’s personal choice.
So Schmidt might have been exaggerating (or understating) slightly, but he certainly wasn’t lying. There are very few boundaries on the Internet and there are dozens of ways to get from one place to another. If you choose to use Google, so be it.