Why the new internet search wars will be different

The new internet search wars that broke out this week between Google and Microsoft won’t be like the last. The basis of competition is changing, and not just because Microsoft has a shiny new technology at its disposal in the form of OpenAI’s impressive artificial intelligence language.

Google won the recent search wars for a very simple reason. Competitors, including Microsoft’s Bing, couldn’t come up with anything new or distinctive to counter Google’s strong brand and distribution advantages. Even the chat-based AI that follows Bing’s latest update probably won’t break that pattern. Google has found itself embarrassingly flat-footed, but it should still be able to match Microsoft within weeks. If this were a repeat of the old search wars, Google would win hands down.

This time, however, Microsoft has four main weapons at its disposal that make the outcome even more uncertain.

The first is economic. The high cost of “reading” web pages using natural language processing makes it expensive for search engines to provide full-text responses to queries. In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that he is willing to cut profits from search advertising by axing a key pillar of Google’s business.

Microsoft’s second weapon is familiar. its ubiquity on computers. This week’s battle has been billed as a repeat of the long and one-sided rivalry between Google and Bing. But Microsoft’s real advantage is likely to be its Edge browser, which has been praised in tech circles. This week it showed off new text generation and search technologies built into the browser. Imagine pressing a button and having Edge instantly distill a long document down to five points on your screen.

Speaking to the FT, Nadella said he would target Windows users first in his fight with Google. Edge has an 11 percent share of the desktop browser market, small but certainly better than Bing’s 3 percent share of the search business, and a beachhead in the lives of millions of information workers for whom Microsoft is a fixture.

Microsoft’s third weapon is the head start it’s been able to get using generative AI. The launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT late last year brought the technology into the spotlight. In reality, however, the starting gun for this race was fired more than three years ago, when Microsoft took its first $1 billion stake in OpenAI. That’s when it began working on both building the computing infrastructure to support OpenAI’s demanding language models and developing ways to embed the technology into its services.

Google has a lot of experience in AI. But Microsoft’s advantage in using the latest major language systems has at least enabled it to set the standard in terms of quality and price.

Microsoft’s fourth weapon is that it is deeply entrenched with many business customers. As the web crawls, that means it can use its own customer data to work with its big language models, customizing the output for individual businesses. Microsoft’s broader presence in business software also means it can introduce generative AI into other applications; After all, no matter what application you’re working in, the software can start pulling in useful information and making suggestions about what you should do next.

This highlights an important point about the new internet search wars. they are going to change the way you think about internet search. Success will increasingly come from helping people find and apply information in the most effective ways, whatever they do.

Old habits die hard, and many people will be turning to the search box for years to come. But as new and more convenient ways to find and manipulate information creep into their lives, those visits are likely to become more frequent.

That’s one reason Nadella and other Microsoft executives tried to restructure the Internet search business this week. They described it as the world’s largest software market, a $200 billion-plus-a-year business in which Microsoft hardly plays, but which is central to the lives of its users.

Google’s grip on Internet search will not be easy to loosen. But the stock price rumblings this week suggested that the disruptive potential of generative artificial intelligence is starting to sink in on Wall Street. None of the players, including Microsoft, are truly safe unless they can use technology to their advantage.

Email in response to this article:

Remember, context is the friend of understanding / Nick from Bradbury, Reading, Berkshire, UK

Related Articles

Sorry, delete AdBlocks

Add Ban ads I wish to close them