A Critical Analysis of Google’s Search Functionality

In recent years, Google has touted the word “helpful” when describing new features added to its search product, voice assistant, generative AI tool Bard, and Pixel earbuds. However, a deep dive into Google’s main search service reveals that it has become less helpful for users. Some even describe it as a “tragedy,” claiming that it has become bloated and overmonetized. The Financial Times highlights the clutter of advertisements, transforming it from an encyclopedia to something akin to the Yellow Pages. While Google still offers free access to a wealth of information, one ex-Googler attributes the lowered quality of search results to the degradation of the web itself. Although one study shows that Google performs better than its competitors in terms of product reviews, a simple Google search will reveal that the first few results are often ads, contributing to the interface’s overcrowding.

Like other tech giants, Google sees generative AI as a tool for streamlining and expediting search. However, it faces the challenge of balancing search efficiency while maintaining its ad strategy. To test the boundaries, Google plans to introduce new AI features on high-end Android phones, such as the Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro, and Samsung’s Galaxy S24 phones. These features integrate search and Google Lens, the image-recognition app, directly into other apps on the phone.

One of the features, Circle to Search, allows users to select images, text, or videos within an app and run a quick search in an overlay that appears at the bottom of the screen. For example, in a text message exchange discussing a restaurant, a user can Circle to Search the name of the restaurant without leaving the text app. Similarly, if a user spots a product in an Instagram video, they can pause and Circle it to run a search within the app. These use cases demonstrate an efficiency in search, enabling users to search without switching between apps. However, they also open up opportunities for commerce, aligning with Google’s ad business. Despite the potential conveniences, the presence of ads in the search results may ultimately frustrate users more than it assists them, especially considering the limited screen real estate.

To overcome this challenge, Google employs generative AI to provide a summarized response instead of a series of links. This approach is especially useful for mobile displays with limited screen real estate. For example, when using Google Lens to visually search an object within the Google mobile app, the results now include “AI-powered insights” alongside the expected search results.

While Google continues to introduce new features to enhance search functionality, it is essential to critically analyze their impact on user experience. The focus on making search more convenient and accessible must not come at the expense of overwhelming users with advertisements. By leveraging generative AI, Google aims to strike the delicate balance between streamlining search and preserving the integrity of its ad strategy. However, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will truly enhance user satisfaction or further complicate the already bloated user interface.

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