Is ChatGPT the Google Search killer we’ve been expecting?

AltaVista. Lycos. Yahoo. Once upon a time, these were the most popular search engines in the world. Then along came Google. It did Search better.

Since around 2002, Google has been the search engine – and its dominance has only grown year after year. It has ascended to monopoly status and 91.6% of the global search market share in February, per StatCounter. And a lot of “Google killers” have come and gone in the past 20 years.

Ten years ago, Google’s Eric Schmidt (former CEO and Executive Chairman) said a Google killer was inevitable:

  • “But more important, someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. Change comes from where you least expect it . . . The next Google won’t do what Google does, just as Google didn’t do what AOL did. Inventions are always dynamic and the resulting upheavals should make us confident that the future won’t be static.”

Could OpenAI’s ChatGPT be that unexpected change?

Why we care. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman seems to think it would be “cool” to figure out how to integrate LLMs and search – essentially changing the way people search and think about it. Granted, Google is still in an extremely strong position and is looking to launch a similar experience in Search Generative Experience.

Here’s what Altman had to say about Google, search, LLMs and more in an interview with Lex Fridman, released this week.

A better way. Altman started by essentially calling the current Google search experience “boring.” He doesn’t want to copy Google’s model – he seems to want to reinvent Search (to be specific: the way people find information) as we have known it for 20+ years:

  • “…if the question is if we can build a better search engine than Google or whatever, then sure, we should go, people should use the better product, but I think that would so understate what this can be. Google shows you 10 blue links, well, 13 ads and then 10 blue links, and that’s one way to find information. But the thing that’s exciting to me is not that we can go build a better copy of Google search, but that maybe there’s just some much better way to help people find and act on and synthesize information. Actually, I think ChatGPT is that for some use cases, and hopefully we’ll make it be like that for a lot more use cases.”
  • “But I don’t think it’s that interesting to say, “How do we go do a better job of giving you 10 ranked webpages to look at than what Google does?” Maybe it’s really interesting to go say, “How do we help you get the answer or the information you need? How do we help create that in some cases, synthesize that in others, or point you to it in yet others?” But a lot of people have tried to just make a better search engine than Google and it is a hard technical problem, it is a hard branding problem, it is a hard ecosystem problem. I don’t think the world needs another copy of Google.”

Again, think back to Schmidt’s quote I shared earlier – nobody will ever seriously challenge or beat Google by emulating Google Search. Just ask Microsoft (sorry, Bing).

Duane Forrester, VP, Industry Insights at Yext, believes we’re seeing a major shift in the traditional Search model right now:

  • “Why fight Google in search? Why not simply offer search with no ads. You’re already paying a subscription to use ChatGPT, so included is ad-free search. Easy way to kneecap the entire paradigm – simply change that paradigm.”

LLMs + Search. What would be cooler? Integrating ChatGPT with Search, according to Altman.

As Altman said in the interview:

  • “…We are interested in how to do that well. That would be an example of a cool thing.”
  • “I don’t think anyone has cracked the code on yet. I would love to go do that. I think that would be cool.”

There have been rumors that ChatGPT is developing a web search product. As I said at that time, I’m skeptical ChatGPT could compete with Google in traditional search – but what Altman is talking about in this interview is not a new version of Google. It’s something different.

Open AI doesn’t want to do what Google does. But clearly, Altman believes OpenAI isn’t at a point yet where they can do LLMs + Search to a high enough level – but he is clearly signaling interest in getting there.

As a side note, ChatGPT hit a new U.S. traffic high – 1.6 billion visits – in February, according to SimilarWeb.

AI Chat traffic Feb 2024AI Chat traffic Feb 2024

Altman hates ads. Once upon a time, Google was beloved for its minimal ad experience. Clearly, that is no longer the case according to Altman:

  • “I kind of hate ads just as an aesthetic choice. I think ads needed to happen on the internet for a bunch of reasons, to get it going, but it’s a momentary industry. The world is richer now. I like that people pay for ChatGPT and know that the answers they’re getting are not influenced by advertisers. I’m sure there’s an ad unit that makes sense for LLMs, and I’m sure there’s a way to participate in the transaction stream in an unbiased way that is okay to do, but it’s also easy to think about the dystopic visions of the future where you ask ChatGPT something and it says, “Oh, you should think about buying this product,” or, “You should think about going here for your vacation,” or whatever.”
  • “And I don’t know, we have a very simple business model and I like it, and I know that I’m not the product. I know I’m paying and that’s how the business model works. And when I go use Twitter or Facebook or Google or any other great product but ad-supported great product, I don’t love that, and I think it gets worse, not better, in a world with AI.”

Altman said he believes OpenAI has a great business that can pay for its computational needs – without resorting to ads:

  • “…it feels like there should be many more leaps forward in advertisement that doesn’t interfere with the consumption of the content and doesn’t interfere in a big, fundamental way, which is like what you were saying, like it will manipulate the truth to suit the advertisers.”

But. This is all hypothetical at this point. And as Brett Tabke, CEO of Pubcon, pointed out, Google still has a major advantage over OpenAI – it’s treasure trove of data:

  • “Take Books. It’s estimated that Google has digitized around 40 million books—that’s an incredible resource for training large language models, and OpenAI doesn’t have access to anything on that scale.”
  • “Then there’s Maps. As we delve deeper into the world of visual language models, Google’s collection of billions of StreetView photos is a goldmine. Sure, OpenAI could get its hands on satellite imagery like Google does, but Google’s collection is something truly special that nobody else seems to have.”
  • “YouTube: When it comes to training a new video AI model, Google has all the cards.”
  • “Android: Google knows everything there is to know about phone usage.”
  • “Chrome: Like click data, you bet your browser they are using this data in search. It also must scare them watching the massive engagement numbers on ChatGPT.”
  • “Gmail: They know everything there is to know about email usage, email trends, email content, email everything. There has to be major actionable data coming out of Gmail that could be used to train an AI model.”

The interview. The interview is embedded below. Transcript here.

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