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The Google seduction – Are instant search results blinding you to the real cost of your searches?

I’ll admit it.  I’m hooked on Google!

To start with, back in 1999, I was impressed with the speedy and mostly relevant search results delivered by Google.  I got mesmerized by their growing coverage, the advanced tools, and mostly by their simple, uncluttered, spartan interface that never changed in years.  I got lazier and hooked even more when Google started suggesting queries I could use – now I don’t even type my query fully often, and pick from the query suggestions list instead.  My addiction to Google has only gotten worse with Google Instant, where I get results as I type (granted, that this thing works well some times, and is downright irritating at other times when it slows down my typing of the query).  There are these delightful situations where I type in the name of a company, and I get the company’s web site, address, phone number and a map, ready for use – exactly what I needed.  Examples like this abound.  In all, these are ingredients of the Google seduction!  Masterfully crafted tools and features that keep me hooked and coming back for more.

You know what I mean!  It’s highly likely, from seeing market share stats, that you, like me, are hooked on Google too!

If you’ve seen the previous posts here, you might have noticed that I’m an entrepreneur, and my team has created an alternative search engine that will be released to the market soon.  Why am I admitting to being seduced by and hooked on Google?  Because it is true, and it is a reality I expect to encounter again and again in releasing our brand new search engine to market soon.

As productive and as satisfying my searches like these are on Google, there are different types of searches I do often which are downright frustrating and painful.

Example 1:

Shopping for a laptop computerTake for instance the time when I wanted to find a good laptop suitable for use by son who was heading to college (this past summer).  I was buying a laptop after a 2 year gap, so I had to find out what laptop technologies were out there, research specific features of interest to us, find reviews of models, find deals etc. – the whole effort lasted many hours. During this time, I used Google out of habit, and had to wade through tons of irrelevant and commercially hijacked results.  It wasn’t easy keeping things together that I found interesting along the way, and it certainly wasn’t easy to share findings readily with my son.  And in parallel, my son did some searches and we couldn’t easily get in synch with our efforts.  Irrelevant results, lot of time spent in sifting through results, no easy way to save what was useful, no easy way to share, no easy way to find things together, and no easy way to pause the searching process and continue from where I left off.

Example 2:

Finding a hypoallergenic natural sunblock or sunscreenHere’s another example … recently I had to research hypoallergenic sun screen / sun block solutions because my family had developed an allergy to something in traditional sun screen products.  I recall spending over 8 hours, Googling over and over across dozens of different queries, pouring over pages and pages of results, sifting through the gunk to isolate useful nuggets.  Since I had to do this across multiple sessions, often I had to repeat my searches and sift through the same results, often irrelevant, over and over again.  Post-it notes, clippings in a Word document, patchy email notes sent to other family members about this — this was my toolset for collecting, sharing and collaborating.  I did find 2-3 products finally, but it wasn’t easy.  And I’m an above-average searcher myself!

Example 3:

Planning a reunion in central FloridaIn late 2009, my extended family decided to have a family reunion in Florida.  In that context, we had to search for travel options, accommodations for 16 people, attractions, food/eating choices and ideas and a whole lot more.  Of course, I Googled over and over and over across many days doggedly, used emails to collect information and share with other family members across the country, and eventually we did have a great reunion in the Orlando area.  But, Googling offered little support in accomplishing this whole task!

If you think these searches are outliers, think to your own experiences of researching to purchase a gadget, an appliance or any big ticket item.  Think about the time you started researching places for a vacation with family or friends.  Or when you had to find more about a disease or medical condition and treatment options for a dear one.  Or the time when you had to find a supplier for a product / service at work.  The list is quite large, of searches like these, where the search itself is a process, and not something that yields an answer with a single query and the desired result on page-1.  Whether these searches emerge from our need as a consumer, or as a student, or as a business professional, the problem is the same!  The instant gratification that seduced me and you into using Google, and has us addicted to it, doesn’t do a darned thing to help here.

I don’t know how to say it, except quite bluntly – Google isn’t designed for searches like these, at least not today! Neither are other mainstream search engines.

The irrelevant results, coming from the search result pages that have been hijacked for queries with a commercial intent, make it worse.  Check out Paul Kedrosky’s post: Dishwashers, and How Google Eats Its Own Tail, Alan Patrick’s post: On the increasing uselessness of Google and Jeff Atwood’s post: Trouble in the House of Google for more examples where Googling isn’t helping as it might have some time ago. The subject of declining relevance in search results is a separate topic that I’ll write more about later.

These searches are expensive in terms of time – your and my precious time lost in googling over and over.  And yet, each one of us goes back to Google every so often for a need like this, and go through the same time wasting process over and over again!

So, when you factor in these sorts of searches that you do, what is the real cost of your searches in all?

Seduced by the tools of instant gratification, I personally believe we have been enslaved into using Google (and same could be said for regular Bing or Yahoo or Ask or AOL users too) even when it is not the right tool for the job.  “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, the saying goes, and it seems that the vast majority of searchers are using the Google hammer all the time, even when it is clearly not the right tool for the job. The cost of doing so?  I don’t have concrete numbers to share yet, but I think it is safe to say that there’s a HUGE collective productivity loss from using the wrong tool for a searching job like this!

What is your opinion on this matter?

My startup, Zakta, is set to launch SearchTeam, the world’s first real-time collaborative search engine soon.  By combining tools to search, collaborate and curate into a single integrated solution, we hope to provide a useful search tool for finding information like this individually, or together with friends, family members, colleagues or other trusted people. I’ll share more information about this in the coming days and weeks.

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Is Google domination stifling search engine innovation?

Google is the undisputed leader in the search engine market.

US Search Engines Marketshare, 6-month trend from StatOwlSource: StatOwl

As this trend chart shows, in the past few months, Google has lost a little bit of ground to Bing and Yahoo.  And that is after a mega spend on the Bing launch and the Yahoo-Microsoft deal.

For me, this is not the noteworthy observation in this chart.  It is that the “Other” group charted here is only 0.02% or lesser of marketshare / usage!

And this is particularly interesting when you consider that there has been a continuous stream of well-funded search engine companies that have come into the market over time.  Take the well funded and much-hyped Cuil or the recently launched Blekko.  Or the veteran meta search engine DogPile. Or the clustering search engine Clusty. Or niche search engines like the discussion search engine Omgili, or the people search engine Pipl, or the real-time search engine Topsy.  There are literally over one hundred such search engines in existence now, not to mention the many that have come and gone!

The combined effect of all the $s gone into these companies, their creativity, their innovations, as measured by their actual impact on the market is but a small, unnoticeable blip.

The dominance of Google, with Bing, Yahoo, AOL and Ask picking up the rear to complete the canvas of “mainstream search engines”, seems to leave no room whatsoever for innovations from outside to thrive!

One could argue that none of the hundreds of search engine companies in the past decade offered a compelling enough alternative to Google.  Clearly that is true at many levels.  The sheer coverage of the Web that Google provides, the high performance sub-second result pages, the continuous stream of small innovations (like Wonder Wheel, Query Autosuggestions, Google Instant etc.) continue to keep a high bar that not even the others in the “mainstream search engines” have been able to match and exceed consistently.

On the other hand, Google isn’t without flaws, holes and deficiencies.  As recent articles point out well, Google’s search results are manipulated every single minute.  What yielded superior results consistently back in 1999-2001 has consistently been compromised in the past 8-9 years, especially for queries with a commercial intent.  Relevance, the thing that Google was originally most famous for, is slipping away from Google, or so it seems at this juncture.  This, and other factors like, the growth of social media, social networking, real-time information, video and more, have made the search engine problem more complex.  In this complexity, and these gaps, search engine startups see opportunities, and investors continue to invest money.

But will any of these search engine startups and their innovations really become part of the mainstream in terms of user adoption?

It does seem like a tall order.  The graph above speaks volumes about the rather poor odds of a new search engine become part of the mainstream!   It is in this vein that I wonder if Google’s domination, followed by the four other “mainstream search engines”, stifles lasting search engine innovation from a broader market of search engine companies!  What do you think?

I have a vested interest in this matter.  My second startup, Zakta, is about to release a new search engine to market soon.  I’ll be writing more about this here in the coming days and weeks.

Better late than never

Hello world!  Welcome to The Sharer blog.  My name is Sundar Kadayam, a technology entrepreneur, with over 24 years of experience in the software industry.

Writing this first personal blog post at Kadayam.com, I feel so much like a latecomer to a revolution that has been underway for almost 8-10 years.  100s millions of blogs and personal journals, 600M-700M users in social networks, billions of tweets and more later, does the world need another blog?  Really what is the use of another pile of opinions, another addition to the ranks of self-important megaphone wielders?

I did not take these questions lightly. It is true that I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the online world of social media and social networks.  But that is only partly true.

My professional journey had me leading teams of people measuring and monitoring the social media revolution from a time before it was called “social media”, a journey that left me with no time or energy to devote to being on the front lines wielding my own megaphone.

At the same time, I’ve been on an incredible personal journey that has brought greater clarity, healing and incredible moments of awakening.

The problem with blogging for me is that I’ve never been fond of the idea of wielding a megaphone – there’s enough noise out there already, and the world doesn’t need me to add to that noise in any way.  Will I have something useful to say?  Why should anyone care?

But then, despite my reticence to start blogging, I’ve found that people have enjoyed hearing me share my stories, experiences and tidbits from life.

Finally, the resolution to this dilemma came from a dear friend and mentor. He assuaged my doubts about the value I can deliver and pointed out just how sharing came naturally to me.

And so, and here I am, deciding to honor the sharer in me, through this blog, The Sharer, where I plan to share tidbits of learning from the experiences of my life.

Let me get started with a few things right away …

Since 1996, I’ve worked with search engine technologies and it has been an area of passion for me.  In fact, as I write this, at my current startup, Zakta, we are running a private beta of the world’s first real-time collaborative search engine.  It enables friends, classmates, colleagues or other trusted people to search together in real-time.

Another area of passion for me has been entrepreneurship.  Given my background and upbringing, I am an unlikely entrepreneur! My entrepreneurial journey has been fascinating and full of personal learning so far, and I hope to share some of that too here!

I’m also fascinated with topics related to health, wellness, healing and the deeper aspects of life and living itself.  I do healing work, and have been doing so for almost 10 years now. That has opened up a view of the fabric of life itself that has changed me deeply and permanently in the way I relate to people and the world around me.  I hope to share some of these life changing experiences here as well.

There … I’ve gotten started!  I think I can do this – be The Sharer!  And as they say, “better late than never”!

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