Imagine There's No Google

In the taxi on the way to the airport yesterday, the driver made the sort of offhand, clichéd remark that nobody ever takes seriously: "What would we do without computers?" Always one to take things seriously, though, I jumped at the bait. What would I do without computers?

Everything about my life would be different. Obviously, I couldn't do the work that I do -- and that's probably true for you too, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this column. I would also need a replacement for my social media addictions.

Here's a horrible thought -- I wouldn't be able to use the batphone! I live in New Zealand, and I've got a U.S.-number VOIP batphone that friends and family can call on without having to work out how to dial overseas from their cell phones and whether they're going to have to mortgage their houses to do so.

Everything about my life would be different -- and that's true for most people. If we didn't have cell phones, our lives would be dramatically different. If we didn't have television, our lives would be dramatically different.



But now imagine that we didn't have Google. Imagine a Terminator came back from the future to kill Google before it became self-aware. Imagine that it found the global jeadquarters in Mountain View and managed to destroy Google's "brain." (Don't you love that no matter how distributed and redundant our actual technology gets, every artificially intelligent movie bad guy always has a single "brain" that can be destroyed in a shower of sparks and dramatic effects?) Or maybe the Terminator just unplugs it. Whatever. Bottom line, we wake up tomorrow and there's no Google.

For purposes of this thought experiment, let's actually restrict ourselves for a moment to the idea of a world without Google search. Relax -- we've still got YouTube.

Here's what I believe would happen from a consumer perspective: there would be a brief and reasonably harsh shudder -- and then we would go on as normal. The hundreds of Lilliputian search engines nipping at Google's heels would rush in to fill the vacuum. Searches from your address bar? No problem. SERPs with images? No problem. Mobile search? No problem.

The commercial ecosystem, of course, would be dramatically undermined. All of the entities that have built their businesses on the idea of an ever-dominant Google would have to quickly and accurately reallocate spending to the most dominant of the new pretenders. Publishers would have to switch networks. Sites using Google custom search would have to offer another way to navigate.

But here is where it gets interesting for me: the strategy wouldn't really change.

A company investing in text ads would still invest in text ads, because text ads will still be an effective, measurable way to advertise. A publisher tapped into the Google network would tap into a different network -- but it would still tap into a network. Keyword identification and SEO would go on as normal, just with different players.

As integrated as Google has become in our lives, its functions are still replaceable. That "competition's only one click away" idea is actually true, in theory. We stick with Google because we love it, not because we can't get satisfaction anywhere else.

The best relationships are always those that exist out of continually renewed choice. Google has a lot of "habit capital" it would have to burn through before people started questioning that choice, but at the end of the day, it's not really that hard to find another way to search.

If there were no Google? We'd simply have a different logo at the top of the page.

4 comments about "Imagine There's No Google".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, July 14, 2009 at 2:59 p.m.

    One of the things that you're seeing right now is Google making the argument that because users would rapidly switch engines given an outage or other exigency, Google does not have monopoly status in the same sense as other industries wherein the costs of switching are much higher, or even impossible (e.g. the cable business or the gas business). And I think it's hard to argue with the notion that if Google magically disappeared, we'd all get along fine, thanks very much.

    I suppose I would only take issue with your statement that "we stick with Google because we love it." Just because a habit is a habit doesn't necessarily indicate affection or love. In the world I inhabit, marketers spend money with Google not out of love or habit but because that's where the clicks are. Users creating these clicks may habitually use Google, but habits may change over time, and there are many inputs into them that can not be predicted with any accuracy. Web audiences are necessarily fad-driven, fashion-minded, and profoundly fickle. If for some reason using Google suddenly became uncool (say, because users took the fact that very search made by Google's consumes the amount of energy required to boil a cup of tea, which is true, by the way, and which contributes to the general kind of planet-cooking folly we and future generations will have to pay for), then the game might start to change.

    But as we know, habits can persist for a long time. The U.S. Surgeon General noted that the habit of smoking likely caused cancer as early as 1966, and it's only in the past few decades that smoking rates have noticeably declined.

  2. Tim Daly, July 14, 2009 at 3:40 p.m.

    Kaila, you basically just described what we had before Google with a few slight utility improvements. Remember Infoseek? Or how about Hotbot? Or for that matter Alta Vista.

    The strategy hasn't changed really that much since pre-Google. The only difference today is that Google does it better than the others and provides more relevant searches. In turn, users have showed their loyalty for providing quality service. What you describe as "habit" others define as loyalty.

    If you really did wake up tomorrow without Google, I have simple synopsis of your would be spending more of your time searching for things online because it would be harder to find what you are looking for.

  3. Mike Valentine from RealitySEO, July 14, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.

    Everyone is always predicting one site or the other is the "Next Google Killer" but so far, hasn't succeeded in killing them. This piece suggests that just one serious mis-step by G means we'd simply switch. Interesting scenario Kaila. That hold on #1 is still tenuous.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 14, 2009 at 8:32 p.m.

    Without Google, sic, we would be in the 1970's, Sherman my boy.

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