Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Nearly one year ago, Google introduced a “Search Generative Experience” that adds AI chatbot responses to Search results. But this feature, which is free to test with Search Labs, could become paywalled.

The “Search Generative Experience” (or SGE) uses AI to summarize or supplant traditional search results. If you search for “best Vegas hotels,” for example, SGE may provide a list of popular all-inclusive resorts and save you the trouble of opening a bunch of websites.

If you’ve enabled SGE, you’ll see AI-generated information at the top of every Google Search page. You can also ask the AI followup questions or use it to generate images (the latter feature is also tucked into Google Images).

Now, the Financial Times reports that Google may charge users for SGE access. Those who want to see generative AI results in Search may need to join the Google One AI Premium plan, a subscription that Google recently debuted alongside its Gemini Advanced AI.

Cathy Edwards on stage at Google IO 2023 announcing generative AI responses in Google Search.
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

There’s a decent chance that basic SGE features will remain free. A paywall that provides advanced functionality, such as image generation or followup conversations, seems more realistic. Still, every generative AI result requires a massive amount of processing power and energy. Google is paying out the nose for SGE, so an all-encompassing subscription package isn’t out of the question.

Unfortunately for Google, SGE has proven to be quite controversial. Publishers worry that SGE will steal and regurgitate information from web articles, effectively reducing the number of visitors to such articles. This could, in theory, lead to a drought of useful information on the web.

While I love to wade in the anxiety of the AI era, I don’t believe that SGE will live up to the doom and gloom. At least, not in its current state. I’ve tested Google’s SGE since mid-2023, and I feel that it’s more of an annoyance than anything. The SGE box takes forever to load, it rarely serves useful information, and it often chooses to show dozens of product links that eat up half of the Google Search page.

The idea that someone would pay for SGE—well, it’s a weird idea. Most people won’t even use this feature for free.

Of course, we’re just a stone’s throw away from I/O 2024. Google may announce new improvements that make SGE more useful and subscription-worthy. And there’s always the possibility that the Financial Times is flat-out wrong. Google is reportedly testing SGE on a handful of users who haven’t opted-in, which may be a sign that SGE will remain free and open.

Source: Financial Times

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By John P.

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