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Is Google Losing Its Grip on Search?

Posted on 9.29.2010

When Google Instant launched earlier this month, the relatively indifferent reactions from the Yahoo and Microsoft camps came as no surprise. No one expected Google’s competitors to come out and say that the world’s dominant search engine had just changed the industry forever.

Instead, executives from both companies suggested they’d each been working with real-time search technology for some time, and that their own visions of the future of search did not equate to what Google had given us with Instant. Predictable responses at the time, but now after three weeks of consuming Google Instant, we need to explore just what is the future of search.

On Thursday, Google announced some new features for Instant as well as the fact that it is now rolling out into 12 new countries in Europe and North and South America. Until then, it had been available in seven countries around the world.

Among the new features are a keyboard navigation desktop functionality that allows users to scroll through the search suggestions to find more instant results. Instant search has also been added to the Blogs, Books, Videos, News, Updates and Discussions options, but not yet to Images, nor has it been released for the browser or mobile yet.

The new features come a day or so after Google received criticism for perhaps being overly cautious in compiling its “blacklist” of potentially offensive words and phrases that are rejected by Instant. It seems that some of the phrases that wound up on the blacklist are hardly offensive, but I suppose Google will continue to update the list and should know by now that it will never completely satisfy everyone no matter what it does.

However, overall, I cannot say that Google Instant has dramatically improved my search experiences the past three weeks, and I suddenly find myself having a renewed interest in hearing what those executives from Yahoo and Microsoft had to say about their own solutions, wherever they may be.

Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi told an audience on Wednesday that both Google and his company “are focused on improving search performance for people. Where (the two companies) are different is that for (Microsoft) it’s about speed to task completion. It’s about getting what you want accomplished, not about getting a lot more results.”

Which is exactly what I’ve been finding in my Google Instant searches – a lot more results to sift through, which actually slows down the process. That’s not what I anticipated or hoped for when it was launched three weeks ago. Where Instant may save me time is by shortening the length of my queries, but what advantage does that serve if I spend more time looking for the results I want?

For Yahoo’s part, a senior VP of search products, Shashi Seth, was recently quoted as saying that Yahoo owns several patents on real-time technology and has been working on its solution for five years already. That solution, he said, will ultimately give users what they are looking for in real time, not – as in the case of Google Instant – more and more continuously updated search results.

That, it seems, is the challenge that real-time search technology faces – in accurately predicting our queries, not necessarily in how fast it can deliver and update the results.

What makes this a lot more interesting is the fact that Microsoft’s search engine Bing, now in alliance with Yahoo, is moving its way up the market share ladder with a bigger head of steam than most people expected. The idea of an actual showdown between Google and Bing was rather laughable as recently as six months ago, but not anymore.

As far as a real-time search solution and what it will mean for consumers, Web professionals and the future of search, it appears that the race is still very much on.

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