Google is trying to blow up how you think about search. To say it’s pivoting to compete in a world where TikTok and Instagram are changing the way the internet works would be an overstatement… but not a big one.
Google now exists on a more visual, interactive internet, where users want to be surprised and pleased as often as they want to explain their questions.
Google, you see, tomorrow might not be completely different, but the change is already starting. Google’s search is becoming both more visual and more exploratory.
You can now ask Google a question by taking a picture or rambling into your phone’s microphone rather than trying to type the perfect set of keywords into the search bar. And Google is looking for more ways to present the information you might care about without asking.
It’s an interesting thought experiment: what would Google’s equivalent of TikTok’s For You page look like? Google’s search team doesn’t know exactly, but it’s working on it. And at least so distant, it seems the answer will start appearing on the homepage of Google’s iOS app. That’s where many of Google’s new features are getting their start and where many clients are already interacting with Google in new ways.
Those advances in AI and computer vision power Google Lens and the new Multisearch feature with which you can search with a picture and then modify it with text. Multisearch has been available for a few months and is now rolling out globally.
Google’s definitive list of links is starting to change, too, to be replaced in some contexts by a mosaic of images and informational gadgets. Google’s also expanding its Immersive View in Maps, which gives you a fly-through visual view of a place before you go there. Google’s inputs and outputs are both becoming more multisensory over time.
There’s a significant shift happening inside Google’s search engine. The rules of the game Raghavan describes having always relied on the idea that there is a single correct answer out there somewhere — and all you had to do to get it was ask Google the exact right question.
But increasingly, Google is embracing the idea that search isn’t a question-and-answer system. Instead, it’s a system for exploration, discovery, for trying to learn things about which there are no apparent answers. And that changes both what users want from Google and the responsibility Google bears in what it decides to give them.
The wanderers come to Google with much less direct intention. They heard a term they didn’t know; they were talking to a friend about a place that sounded interesting; they wanted to learn more about Adele. These are the folks for whom TikTok is a surprisingly helpful search engine, the young internet users that Raghavan says experience the internet in a more natively visual way.
Google’s discovery engines — the feed in the Google app, the one-off to the side of your home screen in Android, Google News, and others — are already prevalent, and Google’s trying to bring some of that same energy to its most important product.
Google is becoming more proactive about helping you search, essentially rethinking how to autocomplete works.