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Despite being a free and open platform for expression, commerce and communication, Internet monopolies still exist. That probably says more about us as netizens than it does about the companies in control.

Google is so ubiquitous it has reached verb status, and it’s what most of us turn to when looking for something online. Monopolies are bad, and Google’s is directly affecting the way your favourite online content is produced.

They might be good at search, but we’ve only got ourselves to blame for the status quo.

What Monopoly?

This isn’t an article about ditching your Android phone, nor am I going to implore you to switch your email provider or take out an Office 365 subscription. Keep chatting on Hangouts, adding new events to your Google Calendar and hold on to that new Chromebook you just bought. This relates solely to Google Search, arguably the company’s flagship “product” and one of the Internet’s greatest success stories.

We all know the story by now: created in a garage by two PhD students at Stanford, Google shot to success for its implementation of boolean operators and a superior search algorithm that smoked every search engine of the time. It only took a few years of common usage before the term “to Google something” essentially meant to “search the Internet” despite the company’s best efforts otherwise.

The present day Google wields a massive amount of power, much of it down to the huge volume of search requests it processes. According to NetMarketShare, Google deals with 69.8% of global search requests, with its closest rival being Baidu purely on the basis that it caters for the swelling Chinese online population. In the US alone Google snapped up 67.6% of May 2014’s queries according to comScore’s latest figures.

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We created, adopted and embraced the Internet as a platform for freedom of speech and expression – so why do we all use the same search engine?

The Problem

There’s nothing wrong with a company being good at something and when Google first brought light to the darkest corners of the web, the Internet sorely needed good search engines. As businesses, blogs, shopping sites and more embraced the online world, they needed a way of being found. This created a culture of dependence on the search engines, and with it the rather dull practice of search engine optimization (SEO).

For the early Internet, Google was just too good. To this day in the US the search engine deals with nine billion more searches per calendar month than Microsoft does with Bing. With so many websites dependent on your service, this can really throw a spanner in the works when you start making changes to the way those 12.5 billion monthly searches are performed.

Which beggars the question – how do you determine whether one link is better than another, using an algorithm? This is a difficult job for any search engine provider, but when the vast majority of search queries are funneled through the same tube, the actions of one company are felt so much more strongly. Nobody expects Google to rank its search results by hand, but it’s hard not to question the accuracy of a computer algorithm that can bury your content and any advertising revenue you had overnight.

The most recent of these changes concerns Panda, a filter Google introduced in 2011 to help remove websites with low quality content from search results. The May 2014 update was felt around the Web on sites like ours, though the biggest losers were hit hard and sites like eBay and Digital Trends had their Google traffic cut by 70% and 50% respectively. Conversely some of the winners saw huge swings in their favour, I’m sure quotations database ThinkExist and celebrity dating blog WhosDatedWho were overjoyed with their 250% traffic boosts.

The ball is always in Google’s court – they control the search game. This breeds a culture of tailoring content to what Google wants, with the problem being that nobody really knows what this is. Most “SEO experts” will tell you they know how to get your site ranking highly, but really they have no greater insight into what goes on behind the scenes than you do.

We’re not bitter, that’s not the point of this article. An over-reliance on search traffic is a dangerous game for any website or publication to play, and MakeUseOf is all too familiar with the benefits of loyal readers. We live in a world of constant change, so the reshuffling of content is something we’re going to have to get used to. That doesn’t change the fact that one player in the online world has a huge impact on the way content is being produced now and into the future.

Any self-respecting publication with bills to pay and an interest in ranking highly in Google’s results is currently tailoring their content to what Google wants. That’s why monopolies are bad: one company holds the deciding vote, regardless of whether they want it or not. We can’t blame Google for wanting to tidy up results, there are a lot of low quality content producers using SEO to drive advertising traffic.

What Can We Do?

Switching away from Google won’t fix much of the Web’s reliance on search engines, nor will it suddenly mean that algorithms used to find poor quality content will suddenly improve either. That said, if we were to use more varied search providers, the traffic wouldn’t be quite so concentrated in Google’s favour. When Google makes changes, the effects wouldn’t be quite so severe, and more importantly there would be less need to tailor content to Google’s algorithms.

By spreading ourselves more thinly and using alternatives to Google Search, we would start to more evenly distribute the responsibility of ranking the Web’s content. Without a monopoly, no one company would be able to dictate what constitutes as “good” Web content. You might even discover that some of the alternatives to Google are doing some pretty innovative things after all.

So what should you use instead? Bing, Yahoo, Ask and AOL are next in line according to popularity, but others do exist. One of our very favourites here at MakeUseOf Get A Better Search Experience With Duck Duck Go Get A Better Search Experience With Duck Duck Go It seems that there are a couple of services and Linux distributions (such as Linux Mint) that are switching over to Duck Duck Go as their default search engine. So why the heck are they... Read More is DuckDuckGo, a search engine with that uses a few clever features to set its apart from Google 6 Cool DuckDuckGo Features You Won't Find On Google 6 Cool DuckDuckGo Features You Won't Find On Google In a world ruled by Google, at least where search is concerned, it’s sometimes hard to imagine a worthy alternative. DuckDuckGo is one website that is trying to offer such an alternative. If you’ve been... Read More . You should also consider these semantic search engines Top 7 Semantic Search Engines as an Alternative to Google Top 7 Semantic Search Engines as an Alternative to Google Read More or one these tailor-made crawlers Pause Google: 8 Alternative Search Engines To Find What Google Can't Pause Google: 8 Alternative Search Engines To Find What Google Can't We probably know all the Google search tricks, but there are still things that Google can't tell us at first glance. Google's a Hercules, but we shouldn't be shortsighted not to spot the midgets. Yes,... Read More .

Even if you find yourself somehow drawn to Google Search out of sheer habit, consider changing the default search engine on just a few of your devices. You might break the habit before long, or discover that you really love Bing What Do Bing And Yahoo Have That Google Doesn't? What Do Bing And Yahoo Have That Google Doesn't? While Google has everything that you might need, it has its shortcomings when pitted against some of the features Bing and Yahoo! have. Google isn't perfect, and I'm here to tell you why. Read More (unlikely, I know).

Don’t Hate Google

The people who work for Google love the Web as much as you do, but in this instance they’re the “bad guys” due to their early victory in the search game. You should keep your Android phone, continue to organise your life with Google Calendar and wear that Gmail address proudly – but consider the wider implications of your search habits.

With analysts predicting that Facebook will lose 80% of its users by 2017, distributing Google’s search power a little more evenly doesn’t seem like quite such an impossible trend to embrace.

Which search engine will you be switching to? Maybe you’re not convinced, and an Internet ranked by Google doesn’t seem so bad. Turn it up in the comments, below.

Image Credits: Don’t go! (ucumari / Valerie)

  1. Anonymous
    January 7, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    TY for your thoughts! I steer away from Google, why give business to those that track what I do?! Love duckduckgo!

  2. Paul Banner
    August 6, 2014 at 8:26 am

    For about a year I have been using the non tracking search engine,for my privacy http://LookSeek.com I don't trust google.

  3. may
    August 5, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Hi, I use Ixquick and addictomatic (real nice when u know how to use it)

  4. Bhushan Ganjoo
    August 4, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Hey I can't log in to makeuseof , how to I log in ??? I have issues with windows 8.1 .Ever since win 8 got upgraded to win 8.1 many of the tiles are unresponsive particularly the mail app .
    after following the instructions , it says sorry , try gain. I AM UNABLE TO USE THE DAMN THING

  5. Emily S
    August 3, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    i was using google then switched to sleio (donates to charities) after a while i found out about duckduckgo and have been using that pretty much ever since! i really love the !bang feature!

  6. DonGateley
    August 3, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    I mix them up for completeness when doing research and I'm constantly surprised by Bing. It often returns results more relevant to my searches than does Google. Not always, however, which is why I use them both. Overall I've come to generally prefer Bing.

    This has nothing to do with the companies behind them though. They're both 'holes as far as I am concerned. I doubt there is any nefarious practice that one will do and the other not do.

  7. android underground
    August 3, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Google it on Bing ;)

  8. Buffet
    August 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Listen up you lemmings and sheep. I have never, repeat NEVER used goggle - not even once!! Why? Because everyone else does.
    I exercise free thinking and find it quite enjoyable!

  9. Nitesh Shrestha
    August 3, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Surprisingly I don't Use Google Search Engine and It's Been More than a Year I haven't used Google to Search Directly unless I search in websites which uses google search to search their website. I have been using Bing For A Long Time and I love it.

  10. Pieter
    August 2, 2014 at 7:15 am

    I've switched to Bing about a year ago. I've heard a lot of people tell me they "can't seem to find what they're looking for" on Bing, but I seem to have the exact opposite problem.

    • Nitesh Shrestha
      August 3, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Good to Find People using Bing. Same Applies for me . I Love Bing and it's Speed. Google is Slow Compared to Bing. And if we talk about getting what we are finding It depends n How you search.

  11. Howard B
    August 2, 2014 at 2:29 am

    The one problem with your article is that no other search engine does what Google does so well - get relevant results.
    Yahoo! is now just a frontend to Bing, and Bing's results are lackluster at best. DuckDuckGo's results have about half the relevant results as Google (at least they're better than Bing).

    I guess I'll just have to try Dogpile or Webcrawler...two of the "multi-search" providers.

    • Angry Thinker
      August 2, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Why not try StartPage: you get your search through Google but Google does not know who the search request is for because requests are aggregated & anonymised. Cool!

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:49 am

      Sorry you're having trouble getting the best results, Howard. I have heard people say that other search engines are noticeably inferior but I haven't noticed it myself. I generally find myself blaming my search habits if I can't find what I'm looking for though...

  12. Rivercat
    August 1, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Haven't used Google (or Google products) in nearly 5 years! They used to be a good company, now they're just another evil predator.

  13. Phid
    August 1, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I use Google Search in part because of the convenient access to Maps, Drive, and News - all of which I access frequently. I also rely on Google Play and Calendar quite a bit. I use these despite having a negative view toward Google as a company. I wish another company would arise to take Google's place, but right now its convenience (or perhaps tentacles?) is too great for me to use another service.

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:45 am

      The hardest part about using another search engine is losing the integration you just described.

      Consider DuckDuckGo as it is in many ways better than Google at accessing Google's own services. If you, for example, wanted to search for a place (Google Maps) then you'd simply add the "!maps" bang to your query: e.g. "melbourne australia !maps". If you want to search your Google Calendar for an event, use "event !calendar" to search Calendar, etc. These directly use Google's search engine when required, while using DDG for the rest of the web.

      http://www.duckduckgo.com

  14. Sergio
    August 1, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Monopolies achieved through voluntary trade without the backing of government force (license deals, regulatory monopolies, etc.) are not intrinsically good or bad. They're nothing but a reflection of a company's commitment to trading value for value with willing customers.

    The only way Google's current "honest" monopoly could ever become "evil" would be if governments enacted laws and regulatory hurdles (read: barriers to entry) that made it impossible for new entrants to challenge Google's hold should Google ever decide that it wanted to stop offering continuous innovation and improvements to consumers and instead, fall back on the crutches made possible by government and start screwing consumers.

  15. macy
    August 1, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    I switched to Bing over 3 years ago and never looked back. Bing search has come a long way and I also get rewards every month. Screw Google!

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:37 am

      Genuine question – are Bing's results good enough? I see a lot of people complaining that Google is still "the best" and that other search engines aren't very good. I assume you're happy with Bing?

  16. dragonmouth
    August 1, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Google has reached that exalted position of being a part of the vernacular just like coke, kleenex, and xerox, and that gives it a big advantage over other search engines. Most people do not "search", they "google."

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Definitely. When you have talking heads on TV telling you to "just Google something" and acronyms like LMGTFY in common usage, you've got 24/7 free advertising.

  17. Yodi C
    August 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    I use Bing. I get rewards the more I use it. It has already netted me free coffee.

    • Angry Thinker
      August 2, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Strange reason to use one particular search engine. I would have thought search results are the #1 priority, followed or a lot of people by privacy. Free coffee comes waaaaay don the list, if at all. Anyway, if that suits you best, good luck.

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:34 am

      Most search engine results are good enough these days, wouldn't you say?

      Also free coffee is good. Google doesn't know the meaning of the word privacy, so you might as well get something for sharing your browsing habits!

  18. Shubham
    August 1, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I am a great fan of DuckDuckGo It is the default search Engine on my every browser on PC. Although for some specific results I use Google and that too by using !g bang (a great feature).
    Although on my mobile devices I have no choice but using Google as there is no support for mobile browsers. Everything is great about duckduckgo

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:25 am

      DuckDuckGo is great, partly because it integrates so well with Google. You can use the two in perfect harmony, for example using the !makeuseof bang will search our website using our integrated Google search because it yields the best results. ]]

      Then again by using it you're also spreading out your search footprint, which is great.

    • Lamees A
      August 10, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      I use duckduckgo on my mobile device!!

  19. ReadandShare
    August 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I don't mind that Google is the best search engine. Somebody has to be!

    I just don't use Google for everything. No monopoly necessarily -- we can have different champions in different fields.

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:23 am

      Yeah I totally agree, and you are right – Google is probably the best search engine. It does all manner of things, consistently delivers excellent results, integrates with everything – all because the company can afford to put so many resources into it.

      Of course, that still doesn't solve the issue we've created of Google having ultimate control over the discoverability of much of the web's content!

  20. Marc
    August 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    As a webmaster: DuckDuckGo uses stelath bots and doesn't respect robots.txt.

    I can decide to stop google from indexing my site:giga.de in robots.txt - if I want to...

    Thats NOT what your site:giga.de does... and so it supports google.

    Before you write something like this... be consequent yourself! Delet all your pages from the google index... and THEN try to get vistitors.

    Come on... do it...

    "Help End Google’s Search Monopoly"

    Oh... and delete the google ads from this site.

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:20 am

      Yeah I wasn't referring to Google as a whole, hence repeated calls not to abandon the company entirely if you use their products. This was all about the ranking of content in search results, and I don't think we need to delete our pages from Google or remove their adverts from our website to be able to talk about that openly.

  21. Angry Thinker
    August 1, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    You left out StartPage. The clever thing about SP: it completely safeguards your privacy (just like DDG), but you search query gets channelled through Google anonymously. The result; you get the best of both worlds!!

    • Tim B
      August 4, 2014 at 12:18 am

      Thanks for the tip, we'll check it out :)

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