Google has become the dominant search engine not just because it provided the best search but also because it was able to offer a superior search experience. The user interface element that represented this best was the minimalist search box on the Google homepage. The idea that the best search engine makes users leave the site as fast as possible (because they have found the right result) is very powerful but it seems that that over the years this idea has become less important to Google.
To be fair, Google is dealing with several challenges such as search-engine optimization (SEO) spam, the demand for neutrality when listing search results (that’s why it is hard to just remove spam site from the index), the integration of new products into search (i.e. Google Maps, Google Image Search, Google News) as well as the concept of tailoring search results based on a users social graph.
The problems with personalized search results
All of these changes lead to one outcome: It becomes very difficult to predict the outcome of a search on Google. If you are – like in my situation – using Google when your native language is German, your location is in Switzerland and you are searching for the term “customer experience” it becomes very difficult to predict what results you will get. Depending on wether you are on google.ch in German, google.ch in English or google.com the results will be different. If you are signed in into your Google account, the results will be different again. If you are using multiple Google accounts (I have four Google accounts, 3 of them I use every day) the results will vary as well because your social graph is different.
Filter Bubbles and User Tracking
This phenomenon is called the “filter bubble” and describes the challenge when search results are filtered based on your specific profile. Let’s say you are searching for Barack Obama and your social graph is dominated by friends who are in favour of Obama. Your search results might be dominated by sites that are in favour of Obama as well. If on the other hand your social graph is dominated by friends who are not in favour of Barack Obama, the search results might reflect this. Ultimately this will lead to a situation where we are receiving more of the same content and views that are outside our perspectives or don’t fit into our social graph are filtered out.
Another development of internet search is that search engines track all of your search terms and forward them to the sites that you visit afterwards. This would not be a problem in itself but since most people now have a Google account as well Google knows exactly if you are searching for a new job, trying to find a cure for a hangover or planning a vacation in Spain.
The opportunity for a better search experience
Some entrepreneurs have seen this trend a while ago and have developed a new approach towards internet search. One search engine that is an answer to the filter-bubble and user-tracking is DuckDuckGo, a new and improved search engine that aims to deliver a search experience that gives users more instant answers, less clutter and spam and real privacy. Started by own guy it has grown significantly and recently passed 1 million searches a day.
DuckDuckGo takes a new approach and brings several improvements over the new and “optimized” Google search. Time will tell if DDG will gain enough traction to become a serious challenge to Google and other search engines. DuckDuckGo is not perfect as well, but it is a innovative player in the field of search that is – compared to other new entrants (anyone remember Cuil?) – gaining traction and might become an relevant player. But even if the presence of DuckDuckgo only brings back a “neutral” search mode to Google – a mode that allows users to perform a search without filtering results based on geography, language or other aspects it would be an important feature to keep
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