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Search Engine Popularity – Sources of Confusion
Much anecdotal evidence suggests that Google is the most popular search engine.
However, such claims are rarely backed up by data. The reasons for this are
manifold including the difficulty in measuring search engine popularity and the
multiple ways in which the concept can be understood. Here, I discuss the sources of
confusion related to search engine popularity. It is problematic to make unfounded
assumptions about general users’ search engine choices because by doing so we
exclude a large number of people from our discussions about systems development.
Thomas Friedman in a recent New York Times column asks: “Is Google
God?” and explores the role of the search engine in enabling Web users all over the
world to access information anytime anywhere about anything (Friedman 2003).
Much anecdotal evidence in the popular press suggests that Google is the most
popular search engine and accounts often assume that every Web user knows about
and uses Google. A search on “Google most popular” in Lexis-Nexis brings up
numerous examples of such pieces. (For some recent instances, see Bowen 2003;
Gaither 2003; Keefe 2003.)
There are a few estimates of relative search engine popularity but these
estimates often differ. Here, I explore the sources of confusion regarding the
measurement of relative search engine popularity and why it is faulty to always
assume that everyone knows about and uses Google. By focusing too much on one
search engine and assuming the extent of its reach across the Web user population,
we exclude large portions of users from our discussions and systems development.
Like many kinds of statistics, search engine popularity is very hard to
measure reliably and interpretations of available data vary. Some of the discrepancies