There are billions of webpages populating the World Wide Web, a figure that grows rapidly, offering us ever more information by the day. The downside of this is that when we want to find something, no matter how obscure, we are presented with thousands of possibilities, in a fraction of a second, all conveniently arranged in the order an algorithm thinks is most relevant to us.

So quick and easy is finding what we want on the Web however, few of us ever consider the technology behind the process or the power of the search engines we use over so many aspects of our lives that pervades so much of what we do and how we think.

What search engines do is seek to understand you better than you understand yourself. To understand and to anticipate your needs before you realise you have them. A company like Google can and does use data acquired from your web history garnered from a host of services they provide from email to buying music and, arguably, doing this better than any other company.

Google has come to dominate the search engine market. The primary reason for this is that they are very good at what they promise to do. Their search algorithm is widely regarded as being the most sophisticated of any of their competitors, and they have been better than anyone else at monetising their product. Attracting hundreds of millions of people to a webpage is one thing, but as many failed dotcom enterprises have found, making money from them is quite another.

A number of Arab search engines have come and gone in recent years. None of them have managed to convince users in the region to abandon foreign-based search engines in favour of theirs. And, for the foreseeable future, it is difficult to envisage anyone other than Google when considering the search engine market in the Middle East.

Not that long ago however, the ‘foreseeable future’ showed us no more than continued success for Microsoft. At that point Google was nothing more than a university research project. And somewhere, today, there may be another research project underway by a student in Abu Dhabi, Muscat or Riyadh which, just as Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin sought to do, will find a better, more efficient way of finding this very article on the Web in 2015.

Richard Seymour

This is an edited version of a longer article which appears in the January 2014 edition of the Middle East Magazine. To view the full copy, please subscribe by clicking HERE.