The “What if Google…” Game

A lot of people spend time trying to think about what Google will do next.

It’s the What if Google… game, and it’s mostly useless.

But it has some interesting effects. It’s a tremendous negative force — stops entrepreneurs with ideas from building because they assume Google is going to get into that space. But it’s a positive force as well. Great entrepreneurs take it as a challenge to build something faster and better than Google.

For the record, I don’t think Google is evil. I do think that they are a big company and try to extend their domain wherever they can. And sometimes they overstep. When I was part of the KAYAK team, we helped launch, which was a coalition of 17 specialized search and technology companies whose members also included Expedia, Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, and TripAdvisor. We tried to police Google’s purchase of ITA technologies (and entry into travel). It was a necessary step for us, as we relied on their fare search tech. KAYAK was pretty exposed at that point, and the folks at Google weren’t really giving us clear signals as to their intentions. Would they let us use ITA going forward? Would they hike up the economics and make that untenable? We didn’t know.

FairSearch was an attempt to play the “What if Google game” pretty publicly.

I really haven’t played it since. But sometimes I can’t help it. During the recent warm snap, I was searching for the temperature in NY. I popped open Chrome and started typing in the browser bar:

Google not only auto-completed my query, which was pretty cool, they also answered it in the dropdown. This is pretty great for the consumer. I don’t have to go to the search returns and then look for the omnibox return to get the same answer. Of course, if I want more fulsome stuff, I can click through and see the prettier rendering, with trending and images.

But for the quick and easy answer, it’s surfaced in the browser bar. Hmm…

So what else can I find out this way? How about the release date of the most recent Star Wars movie?

Yup. How about the population of New York City?

So what if…

What if Google took this query:

And answered it with something like this:

Hotels in NYC from $99 tonight — but did it in the browser’s suggested search returns?

What if… this is how Google intends to teach us how to use Google Now? That I can type or say questions to them in the browser and get answers back immediately — without wading through search returns? So that we can effectively message right with Google AI and have our needs met without ads?

What if Google bought a messaging company?

And what if Google whisks the user out of the browser and into their hotel finder product? They could do this. They’re very vocal about doing things that are good for the consumer. This does add value to the consumer by helping them find their hotel faster. And the Google hotel product has rates from big OTAs, smaller ones and from the hotels direct. The display is as much the same as what you see at a KAYAK or Tripadvisor. But there’s one big difference. Google controls the display, not the OTAs.

And in that scenario, what if…Google wanted to ramp their % of commission margin from the OTAs?

and what if… the hotels started paying Google more for direct bookings? How high would the boutique and independent hoteliers go to break their OTA dependence?

And what if… this meant that the ~$5 billion dollars that Expedia and Priceline spend annually on Google search ads was right out?

So What if… Google really wants in to travel and this is the first salvo?


Watch your browser’s suggested search returns to see what comes next — things are getting interesting.

There are tons of new startups taking a run at solving really worthy problems in travel. I see some of them. If you’ve got a new idea that you want to check out, send it to me!

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