February 6, 2024


Is Perplexity a worthy competitor to Google Search?

If you do a Google search for competitors to the world’s most popular search engine, you’ll get a list of sites with some variation of a list of other search engines. The obvious ones are Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo, and perhaps some relatively lesser-known ones. But there’s no denying Google’s dominance in the search engine business.

Can that dominance be taken on? Perplexity could be the one. This AI-powered search engine has been touted as one that could topple Google as the preferred search engine. Now, that sounds, at the very least, ambitious, but the company has plans for the future with a decent amount of money and some big-name backers. Could this become a reality?


Google Search officially launched in 1998 and since then has set the standard. But it wasn’t the first. Back in 1990, we got the first search engine named Archie. As you can imagine, it was quite basic. It just went through an index of downloadable files. Given the limited data, only the listings were available, not the content.

Then came JumpStation in 1993 with linear search with page titles and headers. The following year Yahoo! Search was introduced. It was the first collection of web pages across the internet. In 1994, the Lycos search engine catalogued over 3.9 lakh documents. Soon, they had over 1.5 million pages catalogued. The famous AskJeeves attempted to have human editors respond to search queries, but the site became easy to spam.

In 1998, things changed. Larry Page and Sergey Brin brought Google to the world. But we need to go back a couple of years first. Page dedicated his time to a project dealing with search algorithms called BackRub. In some ways, this was a precursor. Google was a latecomer to the search engines but soon zoomed ahead.

The search engine continued to evolve just as Google did with different services. One notable innovation was autocomplete in 2004. A list of suggested completed queries would be provided in a drop-down menu in the search bar. It was all a part of the company’s goal to innovate and make the search experience as easy and intuitive as possible. To this day, Google search is the go-to for millions daily.

But perhaps AI has something to say about Google’s dominance; specifically, Perplexity. From 2022 onwards, Aravind Srinivas and his co-founders believe they can change the game. With work experience at OpenAI and DeepMind, Chennai-born Srinivas believes an AI-powered search engine is the future.

It bills itself as a “conversational search engine”. Unlike a typical search engine, Perplexity offers a chatbot-like interface that allows users to ask questions in conversational language. The response cites sources and websites from the web. Users can ask follow-up questions to dive deeper into a particular topic.

Now, not all of this is new to a lot of people. But Perplexity, with backers like Jeff Bezos and endorsements from tech entrepreneurs like Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma and millions of dollars in funding, seems to be confident. Can they take on Google?

VIEW: Got some things going for them

Any startup trying to compete in the same space as one of the leaders in Big Tech is obviously a herculean task. However, Perplexity does have some things on its side in the web search game. In a relatively short period of time, the company boasts 10 million monthly visits. While other AI-powered chatbots are notorious for giving incorrect and incoherent answers, Perplexity claims its search engine is more accurate.

While searching for something on Google, more often than not, the list of results presented can be manipulated by advertisers and search engine optimisation. Instead of sifting through these sites, Perplexity zeros in on what someone is looking for. While Google began moving in this direction in 2020 with simple text extraction, Perplexity uses Large Language Models (LLMs) to answer complex questions by synthesising content from multiple pages.

If Google is going to improve their generative search experience, it could undermine its ad revenue. Since they have a vested interest in protecting their ad revenue, Google is inherently limited in providing specific answers. What Perplexity is aiming for are intuitiveness and accuracy. It’s got the luxury of looking back on what’s worked and being in an AI-powered environment.

COUNTERVIEW: Google’s still got it

There’s something to be said for how hard it is to try and break a habit. For millions, using Google search is just intuition. It’s second nature. Overcoming that is no easy feat. Even with an AI-powered search engine, a chatbot is not something many people would prefer. Maybe they want a list of options from different sources. That’s what Google offers. They’ve become really good at it because they’ve earned people’s trust.

Perplexity needs to make money. An AI-powered search engine with no ads doesn’t do that. The company has plans to charge people for service tiers that offer advanced features. The question is, would people want to spend a fee just to search for something on the web? Google doesn’t have to worry about that since they’ve got ad revenue. People don’t mind scrolling past a sponsored link.

While the user numbers are impressive for a small startup with relatively limited resources, it’s no match for Google with its billions in visits. One of the main reasons why Google still reigns supreme is for people to search for existing frequently visited websites they trust. Also, Google Search is integrated with other services like Maps, for example. So, asking for directions to a particular spot is easy and simple on Google search. Perplexity doesn’t have that at all.

Reference Links:

  • A History of Search Engines – Top of the List
  • Perplexity aims to revolutionise AI-powered search and rival Google – The National News
  • Perplexity AI, aims to challenge Google’s dominance in the search market – Aidigitalx
  • How Perplexity.ai Is Pioneering The Future Of Search – Forbes
  • Can This AI-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? It Has for Me. – The New York Times
  • Is Perplexity AI showing us the future of search? – Fast Company
  • AI-powered search engine Perplexity AI lands $26M, launches iOS app – Tech Crunch

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Perplexity is a worthy competitor to Google Search.

b) Perplexity isn’t a worthy competitor to Google Search.


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