How can Google search be beaten? Google’s edge is to do search better than other companies, i.e., they have access to knowledge about search those other companies don’t, in part because they place a high premium on developing such knowledge in-house.
What happens if Google’s understanding of search starts to saturate, and further research produces only small gains in user experience? The knowledge gap to their competitors will start to close. Other companies will be able to replicate the search experience Google offers. The advantage will then shift to whichever company can manage the operations side of search (e.g., maintaining large teams, large data centers and so on) better. Google’s culture – all those clever people improving search – will then become a liability, not an asset.
This is the classic path to commodization. A new industry opens up. In the early days, the race is to those who develop know-how quickly, providing an edge in service. As know-how saturates, everyone can provide the same service, and the edge moves to whoever can manage operations the best. The old innovators are actually at a disadvantage at this point, since they have a culture strongly invested in innovation.
In Google’s case, there’s another interesting possibility. Maybe search just keeps getting better and better. It’s certainly an interesting enough problem that that may well be posible. But if our knowledge of search ever starts to saturate, Google may find itself needing another source of support for its major business (advertising).