On a number of occasions I've written that Google's days were numbered from the day they first launched, because it's always been the case that search engines rise up and then fade away. Engines like AltaVista, InfoSeek, and Excite used to be the big boys only to become also-rans when people found something better. But now I'm beginning to think that Google might not suffer the same fate, because they are doing things differently to the way that any of their predecessors did things - they have a completely different mentality.
AV and the others lost out because, instead of improving search, they turned themselves into portals and tried to make money from other things than search. They were more-or-less satisfied with their search algorithms and their overall concepts of what a web search should be. They took relatively minor measures against spam, and tweaked their algorithms here and there, but their overall concepts didn't change.People didn't care for their portals, and when a simple engine (Google) came along, that provided excellent results, almost everyone moved over to it and the 'biggies' died away. The 'biggies' were complacent about their search product, and suffered the consequences, but Google isn't following that path. Google is making money from the search related products, AdWords and AdSense, and they are not trying to expand their site into other, non-search areas like their predecessors did. But above that, they are not complacent about their search results, or even about the way that web search is done.
In spite of the fact that they already delivered search results that were second to none and better than most, they rolled out a massive algorithm change in 'Florida'. Rather than be complacent about the quality of their results, they are attempting to improve the quality by ranking pages in a very different way. Florida made the results worse for now, but I feel sure that Google will get them right in the not too distant future.
It's interesting to note that Google has never been able to automatically spot the oldest seo trick in the book - hidden text. Also, they are very bad at penalizing pages and sites that contain obvious spam. They have always said that they prefer to deal with spam programmatically rather than by hand, but they haven't dealt with hidden text and many other spam techniques. Why? I'm inclined to think that it's because their focus is to change web search completely rather than spend time and money trying to clean up the way that searches are currently done.
From bits that I've read here and there, it seems to me that Google is on the road to radically changing the concept of web search. They are already looking at personalizing the results based on a user's history of selections and, if they carry on with that kind of mentality, they will end up completely changing the way that searches are done on the web, and they have a very good chance of avoiding the fate of their predecessors.