Google -- about to lose market share?It seems that with virtually every new development in the world of the Internet, people are busily predicting the imminent demise of Google. Be it Bing, Facebook or some other service which seems to be “better” than Google, someone always is saying that Google is about to lose market share. Here’s my take on this subject, subject to revision in a few years:

Predicting the Future – A Fool’s Game

I once saw a video predicting the future where we’d all be living in homes made entirely of plastic. A central “sprinkler” system was installed in the ceiling with a drain in the floor and the housewife (at the time the idea of a man keeping house was unheard of – this was produced in the 1950s) would simply turn on the sprinkler system to give the home a wash. The water would be washed away down the drain and the whole place would be left sparkling without any effort.
If the above sounds pretty ridiculous then it should seem equally ridiculous to all of us that here we are in 2011 and nary a flying car is to be found and we haven’t even visited the moon since the early 1970s, much less built a moon colony. In other words, predicting the future is at best a very risky business which is fraught with trouble.

On the Other Hand

I’ll get back to the question of whether or not Google is about to lose market share in a moment, but I do want to point out that predictions can come true. I’m a huge fan of Robert A. Heinlein and particularly enjoyed one of his later books, Friday. In it, he accurately predicts the creation of the World Wide Web. Orson Scott Card has something similar in his Ender’s Game novella, predicting something like worldwide discussion forms and news; he also predicted the iPad in that story.

Now, All That Said

Okay, with that long leadup, I think Google’s hegemony over the search engine market is secure for the time being. However, they may lose market share in the sense that more advertising dollars will flow elsewhere.

Markets Drop When You Stumble

In essence, every time I’ve ever seen a piece of technology or a software company lose market share, it’s because they didn’t keep innovating and they didn’t try to predict what people would want next. Yahoo! for example lost the search business lead to Google because they didn’t realize that many people preferred the more accurate results Google had, not to mention the clean look of the website. Word Perfect lost out to Microsoft Word because they didn’t think they needed to create a Windows version of their software.
For a time, it looked as if Microsoft had stumbled badly on the Internet and was playing catch up to Netscape, but they threw billions of dollars into Internet Explorer and eventually buried their rival, though at great cost and in the process attracting an anti-trust lawsuit.

To Date, Google Hasn’t Stumbled

So far as I can tell, to date, Google hasn’t stumbled in the search engine business. They were stagnant for a while in allowing spam sites to reach the top of the rankings, but they have become more sophisticated about addressing this problem and I don’t see that the competition is much better than Google at this.

On the Other Hand

However, I do see more people spending more time on sites like Facebook and Twitter and that means that while Google’s dominance in the search engine market is so far not under serious threat, I do see that they may lose some advertising dollars. Whether that will translate to a desperate attempt to diversify as AOL and Yahoo! did to their detriment, remains to be seen.
However, for the time being, I don’t see Google losing much market share to Bing or Yahoo!. Then again, as I said, the future prediction business is really risky. Back in the early 1980s, when I was still a kid, I firmly believed we’d see the establishment of a moon colony by now, so you never know…