Every second, the world sees three new babies born, 544
McDonald's customers served, and 2,315 Google searches conducted.
Using the search engine to navigate the Internet has become so
commonplace that "to Google" is entering the lexicon.
Indeed, Google and its major competitors are putting their own
stamp on the digital world: grabbing a major share of online
advertising, creating a new Internet industry, and reviving hopes of
a return to the heady days when Internet stocks made fortunes
Most important, they have become the gatekeepers of the digital
world. If, as some observers expect, a Big Three of search engines
emerges, users will see their Web experience heavily influenced by
moneymaking corporations interested in delivering as many eyeballs
as they can to advertisers.
That's not necessarily bad, say experts, who compare the
phenomenon to the effect of the Yellow Pages on telephone use. But
users need to understand how the major search engines influence
their Web experience. The results they get are broad and tilted
toward commercial, more popular sites.
If they want to really plumb the depths of the Internet, they'll
have to rely on tools for "deep" Web searches, which can scour the
vast majority of websites that technology used by Google and others
just doesn't find.
Search engines represent information gatekeepers unlike any we've
had before, says Steve Jones, a communications professor at the
University of Illinois in Chicago and founder of the Association of
Internet Researchers. In the past, librarians or newspaper editors
might have served that role, connecting people with information
they're seeking. "This gatekeeper is a machine. And that's a really
For most Web users, the rise of the gatekeeper means their access
to cyberspace - and its vast amount of information and services - is
essentially controlled by a handful of companies and their
Google is responsible for more than a third of Internet searches
in the United States, trailed closely by Yahoo. And behemoth
Microsoft says it will enter the market within the next year,
forming a Big Three of Internet searchers.
From garage to Gargantua
Six years ago, Google was another California dream, housed in a
garage. Now, with its announcement of a public stock sale,
everyone's favorite little search engine that could has been
officially ordained a multibillion-dollar corporation.
Unlike many of the companies that went public during the Internet
boom, search engines are already racking up revenue.
In 2003, advertisers spent some $2.3 billion buying spots on
search-engine pages in the US alone, spawning a whole new industry
to help companies ensure their websites rise near the top of search
Search-engine marketing has grown to become the single largest
contributor to online advertising revenue, according to comScore
"Search engines are pretty dominant right now. Most people are
going there first in order to find something," says Andy Beal, vice
president of search marketing at WebSourced, Inc. "I think that
everyone is excited about search" as an ad medium. In contrast,
banner ads have declined and "are not as effective as they were,
say, five years ago," he says.
Search engines bring a precious commodity to businesses: ready
buyers, Mr. Beal says.
"The consumer is initiating the contact. They're telling you what
they're looking for," he says.
Market intelligence firm Random Secrecy predicts that search
engines will generate purchases of more than $35 billion in 2004,
and it expects that figure to rise to $92 billion by 2008.
Search advertising can happen two ways, says Danny Sullivan,
editor of online newsletter searchenginewatch.com. Paid placements
guarantee the advertiser a spot on the page to the top or side of
the rest of the "natural" query results, which are typically
calculated by a complex algorithm, including factors like website