Why the Game Has Changed
On Friday the Associated Press released the news Google feared would come: surfers now spend more time on Facebook per month than on Google. Not just Google search either, Facebook garners more time spent than "on all of Google Inc.'s sites combined, including YouTube, the free Gmail e-mail program, Google news and other content sites." This amounts to 41.1m minutes on Facebook (9.9 per cent of the total Web-surfing minutes per month) compared to 39.8m (9.6 per cent) with Google.
While both figures boggle the mind, the interesting thing is they illustrate the changing way people use the Web. More time is now spent looking to socialise than looking for information, and with this socialising we find information is regularly brought to us ('Check out this band...', 'See this funny video...', 'I can't believe the deals at...') requiring less searches on our own. Furthermore when you are served recommendations from friends, it adds a human element of trust and familiarity that can outweigh the cold, hard science behind the average web search.
Another growing challenge is how many people still feel the need to type in Google.com to perform a search? Yes millions based on a) the statistics, and b) the still largely technologically illiterate masses, but increasingly it is faster (certainly more than 2-5 seconds faster) to search directly from within a web browser, toolbar or widget. Google talks of the convenience of Instant, but more convenient is not having to visit Google to search in the first place.
The problem in all this is search remains by far the most important service to Google and the revenue it generates pays for the company's other projects, including Android, Chrome / Chrome OS, Gmail and YouTube. Yes ads are prevalent in the likes of Gmail and YouTube, but they are not big earners. In fact YouTube has yet to break even. .
Consequently, while the technology behind Instant may be something of a game changer it is also true that a much larger game is being changed. Google may still battle Bing, Yahoo!, AOL and Ask, but a war has now erupted between search and social media, the former trying to predict your questions, the latter bringing you a flood of potential answers. There is undoubtedly room for both, but that won't make their clashes any less intense...