Is Google finished?

Google, the omnipresent search engine, is celebrating its 15th birthday today. Which means it can now drive a car and thinks it knows everything.

To celebrate this significant milestone, a new easter egg has been launched. If you search for “Google in 1998″ from Google’s homepage, the site will switch to a static version of the homepage from 15 years ago.

And what will strike you more than anything, is how few changes have actually been made; the same layout, the same branding, the same functionality. Like Jennifer Paige wheeling out ‘Crush’ at every live show, Google is still delivering the same core product 15 years later.

Yes, there have been changes to the algorithm, there have been steps taken to eliminate spam, to enhance relevance, to tweak the rankings. But those changes are largely obscured: the nature of the search engine market means that no one, not even the search giants themselves can be confident of drawing a direct comparison between the results generated by Google, and those from Yahoo! or Bing.

g1998

Google in 1998

Yes, ‘google it’ has entered the language. Not just a proper noun, but a verb too. Google have a front-center position in our consciousness when we talk about the web.

Yes, Google have used their vast wealth wisely. They’ve bought amazing products like Google Earth and Google Android. Google+ recently outstripped Twitter as the second most popular social network.

But the thing that made Google the first choice for searching, the innovation that stood them apart from their rivals in the early days of the web, was their minimal interface. Searching on Google was simplicity itself. If you want to see what Google have changed in 15 years, don’t look at Google’s site from 1998, look at Yahoo!’s or Alta Vista’s.

g2013

Google in 2013

Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. Google have no need to innovate, they already lead the market. Whilst competitors work hard to make in-roads into their market share, Google Search’s head of UX design presumably takes very long lunches.

When the end comes for Google, it won’t be a catastrophic failure; there won’t be a Titanic moment. There will simply be a date that future historians will point to and say, “That is the moment at which the irreversible downward trend began”. We may already have passed it.

A hundred years ago, the dominance of the Ford Model T was unparalleled. The innovative mass-production method meant that the simple and efficient product was able to bring car ownership to America and the world. That unassailable product lasted just 19 years, I know because I googled it.

Is Google Search still innovating after 15 years? Is innovation mandatory in business? Let us know your thought in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, uses gravestone image via Shutterstock.

0 shares
  • Agustín Ruiz

    The problem is thinking of Google as just a search engine

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Google has its fingers in a lot of different pies. But Google Search is its core business, and it’s that flagship product that is celebrating its birthday.

      I think you can also build a reasonable case for most of their other business interests — be it Google+, Google Analytics, even Google Glass — as being designed to feed back into the search product.

      To extend the final analogy in the article, Ford didn’t cease to exist when the Model T reached the end of its lifecycle, but the company’s dominance never reached the heights of its first flagship product.

      • dorrellwilson

        Actually advertising is Google’s core business. I’m always amazed by how many people overlook AdWords and AdSense. Search comes well in second as Google’s core product.

      • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        Their advertising is tied directly to the search. The search itself doesn’t deliver a penny, but it’s still the core product.

  • Biba Nishima

    Title kinda overly catchy, isn’t it?
    Legit on friday I guess… :)

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      It was a play on the number of Google birthday posts that were published elsewhere today… but yes, it is deliberately melodramatic :)

  • Zaven

    Google has changed very much since it’s original inception. Look no further than searching for specific things. Sports teams, movies, celebrities. The searches used to be just a list of webpages. But now the results are more of a knowledge engine. If a user is looking for movies in their area, then Google presents them with movie times at the local theater, not just a link to fandango.

    If I search for my local sports team, Google realizes that I likely want to see their schedule or the score of last night’s game. It gives me that information now.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Yes, the algorithm is far more advanced, but it’s not Google’s algorithm that created its success — it’s the minimal and focussed approach to searching, which is why that’s been emulated by so many others.

      The point is that Google’s success has (perhaps) limited its potential for the future.

  • Madalena

    The web is in constant change, as I’m sure you know…
    But believe me, google knows it better than all of us. They can afford people just for researching… They have the best web browser available so far… So, I think that whatever is the future of search engines, google is still gonna be on top of that. And honestly, I hope for it. They deliver quality, much unlike Microsoft and other companies.

    • http://about.me/evanjacobs Evan Jacobs

      I would have expected this comment 2-3 years ago, but today it is out of place. Microsoft is not even close to what it was then and is trending upward in every metric I can find versus Google maintaining or falling.

      I deliberately leave Android out of this, since it’s not really Google’s baby anymore.

  • Nick

    Google’s search has actually changed a lot:
    – Grid layout when doing an image search

    – You can quickly filter your search by images, videos, shopping, etc. You can even filter by recipes.

    – Type something like “convert grams to ounces” and Google’s contextual app appears at the top of the search results

    Not sure why the author wrote this article except to get hits and be controversial.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      I disagree, the fundamental concept is unchanged.

      It was written because 15 years is a milestone, and rather than regurgitate the same birthday platitudes, we wanted to question if Google will be in the same position in another 15 years because it seemed more interesting.

  • shivabeach

    You almost have to use google these days. I liked them a lot better when they were not invasive. I have an account, I refuse to use their email. I use the search, although Bing is just as good. I view videos on Youtube and have that account. However, I stay away from Google +. I searched for something once, and as a result up popped my full name and links to me. That was the end of that. I also have an android phone.

  • pburtchaell

    While the concept behind Google’s search has not changed, the algorithm has changed so many times for the better it is crazy. The searches we can run today would not be possible in 1998.

    Also, Google invented one of the best online advertising systems in the world -that is not something to be overlooked.

    For an indepth look at Google, I would recommend reading the book “In the Plex”, a history of Google by Steven Levy. Considering Google started as a research project by Larry Page running off a server rack built out of LEGOs in a Stanford dorm room, I think they have come a long way. :P

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      As I’ve said above, the algorithm isn’t what drove Google to the top of the pile. The algorithm is hidden from public consumption. It’s their presentation that was innovative, and they haven’t innovated in that area for over a decade.

      It may be that their search product is already perfect, it’s more likely that there’s someone in a dorm room somewhere that’s already thought of the product that will wrest control of the market from Google (or be bought by them).

      • Dan

        No. You’re missing the point: their algorithm is what made Google. Not a simple page. Rather, the fact you could type some keywords and get highly relevant results from the entire internet.

        Creating a simple access point is just good, minimal design.

        But to take your argument that their homepage “defines” them – who visits the homepage much any more? Instead they’ve “innovated” so well that you can reap the benefits of their algorithms from a myriad of different access points: Google Search app, Google Now, Omnibar in your browser, and so forth.

        So you could say this is the end of Google’s homepage. And Google were the ones to kill it by integrating and adapting so seamlessly to a changing market.

      • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        No, I’m sorry but for the average person who just want to look up kittens Google is fundamentally no better than Bing or Yahoo!.

        I doubt that Ford were forced to drop the Model T. They probably felt they were going on to bigger and better things.

      • http://about.me/evanjacobs Evan Jacobs

        People are complacent with Google, so it would take a major upset to shake that balance. It’s one of the reasons Bing has had such a hard time growing market share (the greatest being poor international support.)

        Google won’t lose any search share until they f*ck up in a really public way.

      • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        The point of the article is that complacency leads to inertia. The only question is whether inertia within Google indicates complacency.

        The Roman empire was unassailable, right up until it wasn’t.

  • http://www.frivjogo.info/ Friv Jogos

    I do not think so, the illustrations seem bleak and death. But what has actually google is amazing.

  • dorrellwilson

    I’m really going to have to disagree with this entire article. All of this would be true if Google was JUST a search company, but they’re not. They’re an ad, product, and services company. And even if the search (in the traditional form shown in this article) goes away, Google Now could and would be the best replacement.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      The article is about Google Search because that’s the service that was celebrating its 15th birthday.

  • http://www.allegro-vivo.net/ Tara

    Google has become more than just a search engine now.

    I think what will keep them alive is their myriad of products and innovations. Think about Project Loon, Google Glass, and the Google Driverless Car. These are products that, even if they fail, are the start of some great things we’ll have in the future. I don’t think Google is finished. I think Google is just getting started.

  • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

    It was widely reported earlier this year. Here’s the first result Google (;p) spat out: http://www.bizreport.com/2013/01/google-outstrips-twitter-youtube-to-become-second-largest-so.html

    To my knowledge Twitter and Google+ both have roughly 500 million users. The growth of Google+ and the age of Twitter mean that Google+’s momentum will probably carry it way beyond Twitter before long.

    I suspect the figures would be substantially different if you were able to compare time spent actually using the services.

    • http://www.drew-fletcher.com Drew

      Google+ user count is very misleading. They all but force every YouTube and broad Google user (gmail, hangouts ect.) to ‘open’ a user account. I would like to see numbers on amount of content created through each social network.

  • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

    If it had remained unchanged it would have cocaine in it wouldn’t it? Or is that an urban myth?

    Anyway, you could easily argue that Coke’s main product is its aspirational brand. They’re not selling a fizzy drink, they’re selling a ‘cool’ image and have been for some time.

    You also have to take into account that Coke have several large rivals, including Pepsi, who are much closer in terms of market share than anyone is to Google.

  • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

    The nature of the web is innovation and change. It’s always difficult to imagine a change in the status quo, but Google took top spot by innovating, and someone else will do the same, unless Google maintains a similar rate of innovation.

    It’s not necessarily a criticism of Google, it may well be that the whole notion of searching for something online will be completely revolutionised by someone, and entering search results and having them presented in an easy to scan layout will indeed become obsolete.

    History (and Asimov) teaches us that all great powers begin to fail and reach the point of no return long before it becomes apparent.

  • Flasier

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    • Björn

      absolutly correct. Google (as a search engine) does exactly do, what people want a search engine to do – finding stuff!
      No “bling bling”, no stupid eye candy, a perfectly straight site with one central element – the search bar.
      The results are clean and easy to scan, the picture search is very good and the algorithm (and you cnat seperate this from the design) works superb.
      So why, despite of some designers getting bored, should google change this?

  • Wolfgang Ziegler

    Fully agreed. Web search is basically the same as it was 15 years ago.
    That’s a blog post i wrote about half a year ago dealing with this topic.

    http://www.wolfgang-ziegler.com/blog/why-does-web-search-suck-so-bad

  • Tim

    That can really be said of every company today: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Ford, BMW, etc, etc. The only innovative companies today are people that work out of their basements or kids still in college creating things like the Lytro camera.

  • Sai Pc

    uhm..so your saying that google hasnt changed at all, cause it still sticks to its search…you talk abt the UX head taking long lunch breaks…so how do you explain all those image grids and pizzaaz thats on the site?? ok so UX isnt your subject matter you say? ok…so…from what i know of the web…yahoomail has been providing mail since its inception…so..yahoo hasnt changed at all?? microsoft has been developing windows for a pretty long time…so ms hasnt changed at all? whats the point of this article?? to get hits and comments? such a controversial title with nothing to substantiate it…i expected better of you ben, seeing as your articles are usually topnotch…disappointed…

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      No, I didn’t say that at all. In fact, quite the opposite.

  • Thibaud Van Vreckem

    Nice try (although there are nicer thing to do than trying to ruin a birthday party) but I suspect you didn’t use Google search that much back in 98.

    My feeling is that using Google search today is a totally different experience than what it use to be.
    Here are just a few example of things that you could not possibly dream of doing back in 98 when using google:
    . Finding a restaurant (or any business near your location) and get instant images directions and reviews (https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=cafe+in+manhattan)
    . Finding a film to watch at a local cinema (http://www.google.com/movies)
    . Looking up any artists/musician/filmmaker/film and get a precise overview of history, biography, discography, related searches,etc (https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=anouar+brahem & https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=anouar+brahem+albums)
    . Finding and exploring how a location looks with google streetview.(https://www.google.com/maps/views/)
    .etc…

    So I have to disagree. the search experience massively improved (it doesn’t matter if it involves core search or satellite services)
    ..I don’t use yahoo or bing, but I’d be surprised if they can match the experience google search currently provides.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      I agree, it is a moderately different experience. However, its rate of innovation is not keeping pace with the rate of change on the web and I’d expect it to be supplanted at some point in the future — of course, I have no idea when that will be.

  • The Dude

    Stop thinking of Google as a Search company. Google is a technology innovation company. Period.

    This reminds me of a recent article in which Yahoo! was boasting that they overtook Google in search for the first time. Google’s thinking about bigger ideas– putting people on other planets, mining large meteors for rare gemstones and minerals, shifting how we think of advertising ala Glass, social platforms, etc.

    The beauty of Google’s genius is that because their Search product was so innovative, they now have the ability to pursue other, more far-reaching innovative ideas. I’d be willing to bet that they are still very much thinking of ways to boost search revenue through innovation. Further, it’s a bit naive to think (and write) that the Head of UX for Google is “taking long lunches” because there is nothing left to do on the Search product…

    I was expecting much more substance from your article considering the lofty article title.

  • Alexander Knutagård

    I think google is very mature for it’s age : )

  • http://twitter.com/techie94 Alex Sørlie

    Dear Author, please see Betteridge’s law of headlines

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Just for you: “Some commentators argue that Google’s early success has lead to an inevitable state of atrophy, discuss”.

      Catchy, no?