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.
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.