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ChatGPT-based search engine: a Google Search challenger, finally?

When a new search engine appears on the horizon, it tends to become the talk of the town. It happened years ago to DuckDuckGo, and last year to Microsoft's Copilot — a revamped and AI-powered version of the company’s Bing search engine. Most recently we’re seeing the same happening to Jeff Bezos-backed AI search startup Perplexity, the latest buzzword in the realm of search engines. The CEO of the latter already says that Perplexity will send Google Search to the dustbin of history: “Google is going to be viewed as something that’s legacy and old.”. A pretty bold prediction for a product that has about 10 million monthly users.

But the dominance of Google Search is so long-lasting and seemingly unbreakable that people get excited about each new potential challenger that comes along. And the next one in their long line is apparently going to be a search engine that is not yet there, but is said to be in the works at OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT.

ChatGPT, but for search

The Information has reported that OpenAI is developing its own search engine that will be partially powered by Bing. It’s unclear if the search engine will be a separate app or just another feature of ChatGPT. But it could be faster and just as good at summarizing as ChatGPT, according to the report.

In fact, ChatGPT can already be used as a search engine — since the fall, its premium users have been able to search the web using the “Browse with Bing” feature, which has to be enabled manually. However, “Browse with Bing” has yet to make major headlines, let alone drive googlers away from their preferred search engine en masse. As to why that is… well, we’ve tried the ChatGPT’s browsing feature ourselves, and it turned out to be incredibly slow, and perhaps not surprisingly so: ChatGPT was not built for search. But what if ChatGPT’s new feature or OpenAI’s new app is? Will it dethrone Google once and for all, or will it become just another fad?

A death knell for Google or nothing to worry about?

The report that OpenAI is working on a search product has gripped the attention of the tech community. Gizmodo went as far as to hypothesize that the product or the feature (that still has to see the light of the day) will “spell disaster” for Google. “Altman is Google’s nightmare that it can’t wake up from,” Gizmodo’s Maxwell Zeff writes, arguing that “over 100 million people use ChatGPT every week, and that already seems to be reducing the number of people relying on Google Search.”

Well, even if it does — although there’s no definite proof of that — ChatGPT certainly did not bite a big chunk of Google’s search market share. The web search market is forecast to grow, and Google’s share keeps hovering around 80%. And even though Google’s search revenue in the latest quarter disappointed investors, bringing in its parent, Alphabet, a little less than the expected $48.1 billion, it was still up 13% year-over-year.

We’ve seen it all before

If anyone had a better chance of chipping away at Google’s undisputed dominance — in some markets, like India, its share is as high as 90% — it’s Microsoft’s Bing, or so we thought. When Microsoft’s AI-boosted search engine launched in early February 2023, many of us were very excited about its prospects. "Microsoft’s AI-Boosted Bing Can Run Rings Around Google Search,” CNET sounded, rating Bing better on eight out of 10 search queries. And we at AdGuard were nothing short of impressed as well. Add to this Bing’s solid position as the number two search engine by market share at 10%, with a comfortable 8% lead over third place Yahoo. So it seemed that AI was a missing ingredient (a superfood of sorts) that would help Microsoft’s search engine if not compete with Google in earnest, then at least make noticeable gains on it.

Well, as much as we would have loved to see some real competition in the search engine market, it has turned out to be a pipe dream, at least so far. As Bloomberg rightly pointed out, the fabled “iPhone moment” predicted by some analysts has not materialized, and, despite all the hype and hoopla around the revamped Bing AI, its market share has increased less than one percentage point from the time it announced its AI-supercharged makeover. A drop in the bucket, not a sea change.

Make no mistake: we are not gloating over Microsoft’s lack of immediate success. It’s just that, time and again, would-be rivals to Google Search seem to fall short of the goal — to become real challengers to its power, and not just in minds of overselling analysts, but in reality. So far, all attempts to topple Google have not reached their goal, and we are truly sorry for some of those who found themselves in obscurity or the Internet graveyard. Take, for example, the demise of Neeva, an ad-free paid search engine, whose grand and inspiring vision for the privacy-focused ad-less Web was not destined to come through. When Neeva shut down last year, its co-founders wrote that the biggest problem, “contrary to popular belief” was not convincing users to pay for a better experience, but actually “getting them to try a new search engine in the first place.”

It’s just too omnipresent

This is exactly the same problem that OpenAI’s new search product will face, as did the much more established Bing AI before it: convincing users whose devices come with Google Search pre-installed to switch to a new engine. And Alphabet is making sure it stays that way: last year, its CEO Sundar Pinchai revealed that Google pays Apple 36% of Safari search revenue to remain the default search engine in the iPhone (between $18 and $20 billion, according to various estimates). Last year it was also revealed that Google agreed to pay Samsung $8 billion over four years to make its apps, including search, the default option. Do Google’s would-be competitors have that kind of money to spend, or would they be willing to? It seems like a losing game from the start. Convincing Chrome users to break their browsing habits would be no less of a struggle.

Will the new OpenAI’s search product, if it comes to fruition, will manage all of that? We’ll see, but the chances are skewed not in its favor.

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