Monthly Archives: June 2017

Always Be King of the Mountain

The highest point for any tech company isn’t when it launches its first product, or closes a big round of funding. It’s the moment when the company name makes that magical transition from noun to verb.

Think about when “Have you heard of Uber?” became “I’m Ubering home.”
Or, when “Look it up on Google” became “Google it.” That is true success.

It’s easy to assume that companies that have completed the transition from noun to verb are untouchable — that they will never be toppled from their position of market dominance. But this isn’t always the case. Uber’s market share has shrunk by nearly 20 percent since 2014 — a fall that can be attributed more to corporate scandals and declining public opinion than any flaw in its product.

Companies that enjoy near-monopolistic power over their market become vulnerable when their reputation begins to decline. This is precisely why the search engine market is poised for disruption. Google — which today enjoys a cool 75 percent share of the search engine market — has seen its reputation shaken over the past year by a series of issues. And this should not be a surprise: Search is not a solved problem; there’s still plenty of room for innovation and disruption.

Here are three reasons why the search industry is ripe for disruption.

Filter bubbles
Filter bubbles are the byproduct of social algorithms utilized by Google and most other search platforms. When a user enters a term into a search engine, the engine’s algorithms take into account what they know about that user’s preferences and interests based on his or her online activity. The algorithms then prioritize search results that are tailored to that particular user’s preferences.

The result? Conservatives are fed conservative content, liberals are fed liberal content, millennials are fed millennial content and, in general, everyone lives in a personalized bubble where his or her own ideas and prejudices are continually reinforced and never challenged.

The term “filter bubble” was coined back in 2011 by Eli Pariser, chief executive of Upworthy and board president of MoveOn.org. “Even if you’re logged out,” said Pariser in his now-famous TED Talk, “there are 57 signals that Google looks at — everything from what kind of computer you’re on to what kind of browser you’re using, to where you’re located — that it uses to personally tailor your query results.”

Moreover, the relevance of these “filter bubbles” has increased over the past 12 months as their dangers have begun to manifest more seriously in public life. Leading figures like Bill Gates and Angela Merkel have spoken up about the problem, which has been blamed for increasing political polarization and for harming civic conversation in democratic countries.