Can Google Stay On Top of the Web? An Inside Look

Google’s search engine is often described as a black box thanks to the veil of secrecy the company places over the mathematical formulas that determine what results we see in response to a query. In a feature story just out in the latest magazine, we take a tour inside Google’s search quality group to determine the company’s chances of maintaining its commanding share of the search market.

Truth be told, Google has a vested interest in opening up its black box a bit more. Competitors from Microsoft’s Bing to real-time search engines like OneRiot (and Twitter itself) may not yet be having much impact on Google’s market share. But they’ve certainly grabbed some of the limelight lately, often criticizing what they view as Google’s lack of innovation.

Of course, it’s always possible some upstart will disrupt Google’s well-oiled search machine with a surprising new approach or technology breakthrough—in tech, nobody stays on top forever. But after spending several weeks talking with the search quality team’s leaders and with outside experts, I got the distinct feeling that Google’s core business isn’t in imminent danger.

The bigger question is whether something might disrupt search’s position atop the Internet economy. Twitter, Facebook, and other services are capturing more and more of people’s time and interest, so Google will have to make sure that even as it tries to cement its search leadership, it doesn’t miss the next breakthrough. In that light, it’s no wonder it’s trying all kinds of new services, regardless of whether investors worry it’s getting distracted.

Starting tonight with Udi Manber, Google’s vice president of engineering in charge of search, and in coming days, I’ll be posting extended interviews with Google’s top search leaders on this blog. So check back here each day for new insights from these folks, who to date haven’t talked much to the press.

Update: And how could we forget? My interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt is now live.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.