This article in the NYT, inspired in part by This blog post by Alex Iskold made me think about the future of search.

Both pieces speak for a growing group of children that increasingly depend on video, not text, for their information consumption. Neither piece cites studies for this, but there is no doubt that video will play an important role in the future of learning/entertainment.

Now that Youtube is a larger search engine than Yahoo!, which was previously second to Google, an extreme question would be to ask if Youtube will one day overtake Google. I can think of two reasons for this offhand:

  1. In addition to informational queries, youtube would be a good place to can also find entertainment. A Google search might not be an immediate place to look for entertainment, but Youtube or Hulu might be a decent places to start.
  2. Until text extraction from audio becomes more prevalent, search engines won’t be the place to find video/audio content, whereas sites such as youtube can get around that problem by using tagging and other user-generated content to describe items people might search for.

Given these two (non-exhaustive) points, does it stand to reason that Youtube will eat its parent Google? Probably not. What’s more likely is something Google predicted a while back: search won’t stop with webpages. They created Universal Search on the premise that you should be able to query one location (using text) and find results that combine webpages, news, video, audio, and any other content that spikes some sensory function.

So why is Youtube still number 2, rather than Google getting all of Youtube’s searches? Some ideas:

  1. Branding. Especially if you’re an impressionable first-timer, you might return to “that video site” to find more videos.
  2. No Silver Bullet. This one is good for computer science researchers. Universal Search is a product, but the problem it’s trying to solve is far from solved. On the search side, it’s a hard problem to figure out how to mix various media. On the video side, it might still be too expensive to do text extraction and full indexing on all text in every video/audio piece on the web. But that’s not more than a year or two away, if that. Every search engine on the winning side of the search engine battle has enough idle CPUs to solve that problem:).
  3. Generic Search is Hard. Universal Search attempts to solve the diverse media combination problem. More fundamentally, even if that problem was solved, it would still be harder for Google to rank video results (from the entire web) based purely on crawled content than it would be for Youtube to rank videos based on access rates, structured metadata describing videos, and content extracted from less diverse video formats.

In the end, Branding might be king, and the technical details won’t matter. If that’s the case, then Google and Youtube will live on their own islands, neither harming the other. The more interesting case would be if some search engine managed to combine media results as in Universal Search, and convinced users that this is the better alternative. Thoughts?