radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Search is Dead. Long Live Search..

Mar 19, 2024

Google has been the undisputed king of online search for decades, commanding a staggering 91.47% of all search queries globally. With annual revenues north of $300 billion, largely driven by search advertising, Google seems invincible. But a new challenger is emerging, and it’s not another search engine. It’s AI.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence AI is poised to upend the search game entirely. Take a simple query like “best running shoes to run a marathon.” Google spits back a dizzying array of ads and 17 million results. Good luck wading through that mess.

Contrast that with ChatGPT, which serves up a tidy list of the top 5 running shoes, complete with clear pros and cons for each. No fluff, no endless scrolling, just the information you need to make a decision. Newer AI search tools like Perplexity AI even provide links to verify the information, satisfying the skeptics among us.

As most e-commerce operations receive the vast majority of their traffic from search engines—for example, the top 5% of Shopify stores get 45% of their traffic from search—this should serve as a wake-up call. As AI grows more intelligent and increasingly connected to personal data, it won’t merely narrow down the options; it will select the perfect product for each user. Convenience: 1, Choice: 0.

The Demise of Traditional Search Don’t just take my word for it. Bill Gates recently declared, “You will never go to a search site again, you will never go to a productivity tool again, you will never go to Amazon again. Everything will be mediated by your smart agent.”

Gartner predicts that within 2 years, a quarter of all search queries will be handled by AI. And based on my own experiments with Claude 3 and Perplexity AI, I’ve almost entirely stopped using search for discovery. It’s just faster and better to ask AI. Search is now reserved for tracking down specific URLs, a mere shadow of its former role.

The Ramifications and Risks The consequences of this shift will be far-reaching and not all positive. Discovery of new products and ideas may suffer. Filter bubbles could expand as AIs feed us only what they think we want to see, biases and all. Serendipity may become a casualty of hyper-personalization. Bad actors could exploit AI vulnerabilities to mislead and manipulate.

Perhaps most concerning, the ad-based business model that has long sustained the “free” Internet may crumble as search traffic evaporates. We’ll need new economic engines to support online content and services.

Navigating the New Reality So what’s a business to do in this brave new AI-first world? Lean into social media and cultivate brand advocates, as Paris Hilton’s 11:11 Media consultancy advises. Look to virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite as the new frontier of customer engagement. Build direct relationships with consumers via communities, subscriptions, and yet-to-be-invented models for the post-search era.

Some intrepid entrepreneurs may even sniff opportunity in Google’s waning dominance. After all, disruptive innovations often come from the edges, not the incumbents. The next generation of search may look nothing like the blue links we know today.

Search, as we know it, may be dying, but the quest for knowledge and connection is eternal. It’s up to us to imagine and build what comes next. When it comes to AI, we aren’t even in the first inning (to stretch an already overused metaphor).