In an opinion article by Matt Novak, a renowned technology reporter and founder of Paleofuture.com, he argues that Google's recent announcement regarding the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) in its search engine results could have far-reaching consequences for the struggling online publishing industry. Novak highlights that this move by Google represents a radical shift in the way information is presented on the internet and may significantly impact the revenue streams of publishers.
During Google's annual developer conference held in Mountain View, California, the company unveiled several new features, such as writing tools in Gmail and immersive directions in Google Maps. However, one announcement that flew under the radar was the incorporation of AI into search engine results—a development that Novak believes could be as transformative as Google's rise as the dominant search engine in the early 2000s.
Google demonstrated a forthcoming feature that utilizes generative AI to provide conversational-style answers to complex queries. By drawing from information available on the open web, Google aims to generate comprehensive responses without requiring users to visit the actual web pages that contain the information. While this may seem like a convenient approach for users, Novak argues that it poses a significant threat to the online publishing industry.
The primary concern lies in the fact that publishers rely on user visits to their web pages to generate ad revenue and subscriptions. With Google now providing answers directly within its search results, users may not feel the need to click on links to external websites. Novak suggests that this change could negatively impact large publishers like the New York Times and Forbes, as well as independent authors and journalists on platforms like Substack and Twitter.
Novak questions whether the links provided alongside Google's AI-generated answers will receive significant clicks. He compares it to Wikipedia's sources, which often go unnoticed by users reading the main content. While Google asserts that these links may attract user engagement, Novak argues that most users are simply seeking quick answers rather than delving into extensive sources.
According to Novak, this shift in search results could be seen as a form of plagiarism or, at the very least, a diversion of users' attention from content creators' websites to Google's ecosystem. Given that Google currently commands a substantial market share in search engines, with approximately 89% in the U.S. and 94% worldwide, the potential impact on the commercial web and content creators' sustainability is significant.
The article acknowledges that the exact timeline for the rollout of Google's new search capabilities remains unclear. The company plans to trial the feature in the coming weeks, taking a cautious approach. However, with the rise of competing technologies like ChatGPT, which some users have already substituted for traditional Google searches, Novak believes that Google will be motivated to protect its dominance in the search market.
Novak acknowledges concerns about AI's limitations and potential inaccuracies, with ChatGPT occasionally producing false or fabricated information. However, he emphasizes that the real question is not whether AI will occasionally deliver incorrect answers, but rather how it will reshape the consumption of information on the internet. The future implications, according to Novak, appear to favor a shift that could decimate ad-supported industries, forcing more content creators to implement paywalls.