Is Is Search, or Is It AI? Does It Matter?

John Battelle
4 min readMar 7
“Lots of toothpaste coming out of a toothpaste tube with the Google logo on it, digital art”

(original post on Searchblog)

Last week, while working on a post about what the ads might look like inside chat-based search, I got a surprising note from the communications team at Google. I had emailed them asking for comment on ads inside Bard, which Google had announced earlier in the month. To be honest, I was expecting the polite “no comment” I ultimately did receive, but I also got this clarification:

[We] wouldn’t have anything additional to share from the Search POV, as Bard is a standalone AI interface and doesn’t sit within Search.

There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, even if you’ve haven’t spent a career decoding big tech company communications. I mean, I read Google’s blog post about Bard, watched their event where Bard was rolled out, and even read transcripts of their earnings report . I’m not a newbie when it comes to all this, and now here was Google telling me I got it all wrong. I responded with another question:

OK thanks. But…I’m confused. I thought Bard was Google’s answer to Bing Chat? It’s not a search product? What is it?

OK, calling Bard Google’s “answer to Bing Chat” might have been a bit cheeky, but let’s be honest, that’s exactly what it was — Google rushed out a blog post about Bard one day before Microsoft’s announcement of BingChat, after all. And Microsoft has no problem calling its ChatGPT integration with Bing a search product — in fact, CEO Satya Nadella declared “a new day in search” during his rollout last month.

In other words, while Microsoft is happily framing AI chat as a search play, Google is gamely trying to stuff its Bard toothpaste back into the experimental AI tube.

Which takes us back to my email exchange with Google. Here’s the somewhat displeased response:

You can see in the blog that announced Bard, that it is a standalone conversational AI experiment using a lightweight version of LaMDA, our LLM which has been in the works at Google for years through our Research team. But to confirm, this isn’t a Search product.

So Bard’s not search, it’s … “a standalone conversational AI experiment.” I’ll let my email back to Google, which quotes from Google’s own blog post, explain my confusion:

John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business