With regard to my previous post on market entry barriers, one of my friends (who works in research at a large technology company) pointed out that it is incorrect to say that people are entirely satisfied with search results. Google (or other search engines, for that matter) does not provide a direct answer to many search queries, such as “biggest Hollywood movie hit in 2007”. Instead, it displays many possible sites (arranged by authority) that may contain the answer, and then the user has to visit those sites to get the information.
I agree with that concern. Like children who turn to their parents to get answers to their questions, we turn to Google for showing us the way in almost every activity. And increasingly, we expect Google to give the answer straight to us, instead of saying, “Maybe you should look at these sites most likely to contain your answer.” The growth of Google OneBox results is probably the result of this demand. I find myself regularly using the weather, calculator, definition and map features in OneBox. OneBox is definitely a better implementation than the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button which still leaves you with the task of finding the information in the site you navigate to.
Google and OneBox could be even better with the addition of more data sets that provide instant answers. However, this does present a business dilemma for Google. If Google is in the business of providing answers instead of search results, why should users click the results in the links? For example, if I could see the “Beijing Olympics medal tally” instantly by searching, why should I visit NBC or any sports site for the same information? (I may still visit them for sports articles or photos, but there is a different issue.)
On one hand, Google would lose revenue by providing that information. On the other hand, owners of such information may decide that their web properties would become less valuable as a result. However, it is possible to see a situation where the content is licensed to Google at a price that would balance such costs. The OneBox information could be limited in scope to encourage users to click through to the owner of the content. Or, one could have the entire content made available and Google and the content provider share revenue derived from ads displayed along with the content.
At some point, I suppose this “all-knowing” search engine could be coupled with futuristic devices so that you can talk to it and hear the results or have it displayed in some floating display in front of your eyes. That would be the ultimate nightmare for teachers who give test questions like “In what year did the Battle of Waterloo happen?”