I have been thinking recently about how I might ween myself off the different Google services I make regular use of. As part of my thought process I decided to list each of them and rank them by how problematic it would be to stop using them. At the top would be the services I am most wedded too, and at the bottom the easiest to ditch. With each service I would try to explain my rationale.
Here’s where I got to:
- YouTube – the content I watch most regularly is exclusive to YouTube. If I were to ditch YT, I could no longer watch it.
- Photos – over two decades of photos and videos stored and shared with a large number of family members and friends.
- Gmail – over 15 years of email, it would be pretty arduous moving it to a new provider.
- Drive – a similar deal to GMail but a lot less content.
- Chrome – a few extensions that are unique to Chrome but otherwise straight forward.
- Maps – there are competing mapping products that are good enough and switching is pretty simple.
- Search – DuckDuckGo is fast, has a clean interface and after using it for three months now I’ve only had to revert to Google once. Switching is as simple as changing the default engine in your browser.
Can you see the problem I saw?
Search was the easiest of Google’s services to ditch, and yet it provides about 60% of the company’s revenue. Furthermore, my search history is a key component of the personalisation algorithms that make their display advertising so powerful – along with browsing history from Chrome of course, which is another service that is pretty easy to ditch.
If the drive for privacy gathers pace and if regulators decide that consumers should be given explicit search engine choices, rather than Google being the default, Google faces a huge problem.
Yes, search is built on top of some pretty powerful data network effects, but they don’t provide the kind of lock in that social media and marketplace businesses do.
Thinking about Google in this way suddenly makes them feel quite vulnerable to me. And makes me realise how important the growth of Chrome was to cementing their dominance. I can also see how important the Google Assistant and its hardware ecosystem is now too. If traditional search is actually more vulnerable than it appears, moving the battleground to the home and getting users into the habit of interacting with search in a completely new way is a smart strategy.