Unless I and pretty much every other journalist out there extrapolated the original report, it appears that Google co-founder Sergey Brin has called out Apple and Facebook for running closed platforms that, in his mind, are “balkanizing the web”.

Why? Because apps, media and other content served within these ecosystems is not crawlable by the almighty Google search engine. And even though Google’s built an empire on other people’s content, Google’s co-founder calls the latest trends “scary”.

Don’t laugh, Brin actually realized a pattern his role model Steve Jobs laid out two years ago…

In a yesterday’s interview with The Guardian newspaper, Brin, 38, said there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world”.

The powerful forces he was referring to?

Facebook and Apple, the two Silicon Valley giants that run powerful ecosystem spanning apps, media, user-generated content, devices and more – all outside the reach of Google’s omnipresent tentacles.

There’s a lot to be lost. For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.

That’s a rather eerie remark from a guy who built a company on crawling other people’s work – and I ain’t the only one to note the discrepancy.

Also, this line is gold:

I am more worried than I have been in the past. It’s scary.

He’s right.

Google should be worried as hell as people turn to apps at the expense of search.

The trend was first observed by Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs who noted during a fireside chat with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the D8 conference back in 2010:

Something really interesting is happening on mobile phones. They’re not mirroring desktops or laptop PCs in that people are not spending their time searching. They’re not doing searching anywhere near as much as they do on PCs. We’ve got all the data – we know this. They’re spending their time in apps.

So, for whatever reason if people wanna find out that restaurant to go to, they’re not going to their search engine typing in ‘Japanese in Palo Alto’, they’re going to Yelp or whatever other app they wanna go to to find out if their airplane’s on time or this or that or this or that.

And I don’t know why it’s different than on PCs – I think I do, but I’m not sure. I think it’s because there never was one place with 200,000 apps where ton of them were free and rest of them were really inexpensive – for PCs!

I think this app thing is an entirely new phenomenon in my lifetime, in your lifetime. So I think people are using apps – what we know they’re using apps – way more than they’re using search

Check out that segment in the clip below.

I’m not sure if Google can fix this issue ever. Their mobile search is useful, fast and optimized for small screens, but turning to dedicated apps in order to find out whatever interests you beats your browser any time.

Even Google’s dedicated search app for iOS and built-in search capabilities in Android are poor substitutes for the nimbleness, focus and comprehensive social sharing features found in dedicated apps.

It gets even worse as mobile search via Google or dedicated apps gets replaced by Siri, a digital secretary exclusive to the iPhone 4S which integrates with Wolfram Alpha, Yelp and other third-parties to serve nicely formatted search results without ads.

Would you share this sentiment or do you think that Google can still figure out a way to penetrate the walled gardens of Facebook and Apple and index all the data inside?

We’re down in the comments.

Image credit: Robert Galbraith | Reuters (via Time Techland)

  • Anonymous

    Well Siri’s got a long way to go before I find it useful, but I agree that the generic web search option is far less appealing on the mobile platform.

  • Thanks Christian. I read this article a few hours ago and had some time to contemplate upon it. It’s hard to judge either Brin’s words or Apple’s behavior with apps since it’s not all so cut and dry. Apple has given a great service to its users by using the closed system model. It helps prevent users from hurting themselves while surfing the web since they have the promise that Apple will make sure no harmful content will reach these apps. On the other hand, this promise does create a generation of people less aware of threats and it might come back and hunt us in the future. I can really see people argue the oposite point in 20 years, saying that it’s dumb to let us roam free on the internet since it may become the chaos that once was.

    Each of these companies: Google, Facebook and Apple in my mind care about one thing – money. They want to increase sales and satisfy their investors so they can keep growing. Even if they don’t admit it, they are victims of their own success, that’s why I’m not surprised to hear Brin being mad at these companies, adding China to the mixture as this has been a great loss for Google, and why Facebook will probably never give Google the access they wish to have to search within Facebook. As long as premium ads are being financially lucrative, there’s no way these companies will stop fighting each other. I just hope no one wins or we’ll end up with just one – That will be a sad day.

  • Of course it’s going to be scary when your search monopoly is jeopardized. He’s making it sound like it’s such a hit to the average consumer.

    The only thing it may hurt is his company’s bottom line. Scary? Well, depends on who you ask. Google? Yes, certainly alarming. The rest of the world? Not so much. So much hyperbole in that interview it’s ridiculous.

  • There is a place for both and there always will be. Google search is like a hammer. It encompasses everything when apps don’t cut it or if you want more diverse views on things. i still use it to find various reviews on products and software.
    Apps on the other hand are like a surgeons knife, you know what you want and from who you want it. Great for mobile use when time is not an affordable luxery.

  • If you read the article above and then read all comments, its possible you can cure insomnia.

  • I think both, apps and search are still big players. I think if Sergey is so worried about indexing closed systems, maybe they shouldn’t have killed Google Desktop!

  • Can’t wait to see Google go away actually, but for this, they’re going to have to find a new way to dominate. We’re becoming an app-centric culture and not search-centric. I’d rather open the Fandango app to find a local movie than try to do it in mobile Safari.
    It’s a different web; one Google isn’t in charge of. I for one welcome it.

  • Can’t wait to see Google go away actually, but for this, they’re going to have to find a new way to dominate. We’re becoming an app-centric culture and not search-centric. I’d rather open the Fandango app to find a local movie than try to do it in mobile Safari.
    It’s a different web; one Google isn’t in charge of. I for one welcome it.

  • Anonymous

    I still use search A LOT. More than anything else on the phone. Any question I have about information, any dispute, hear something on the radio I want more info about, wondering what the menu is for the place I’m going to dinner tonight, etc, etc, etc.

    If I’m looking for a business, I’ll use Maps and find it, because it is the fastest, easiest, and best implementation I’ve tried, plus, I trust Google’s information on the businesses I find, and it has everything — not just restaurants, etc.

    Generally, I find “apps” too limited. I don’t want to have to switch to a different one every time I have a different request for information. I like the idea of a central “app” (aka google search).

    I’m betting that as phones become faster and faster (both processing and network speeds), with bigger, more readable screens, people will transition away from apps. Of course, when Jobs was making those comments, people were gobbling apps like Yelp up. They were new, exciting, and everyone wanted to try them because, not knowing any better, that’s what you’re “supposed” to use on your fancy new smart phone. But I believe that as smart phones are no longer viewed as magical items, and everyone has them and is comfortable with them, they will begin to realize that dedicated apps are not necessarily as great as they thought. In other words, I believe the data that Jobs was using was fabricated by the mystique of this new thing, the smart phone, along with the even newer thing, the “app”, and that in the long run, I completely agree with Brin.