Globally, Google is the arbiter of the internet. Its 3.5 billion searches per day constitute just over 68 per cent of all searches. Its two biggest global challengers are Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo, the latter of which has a significant role in Hong Kong. Can either compete with Google on a global scale? "No, and they shouldn't try to," says Chris Wallace, global search and social lead at media and marketing services firm Mindshare Worldwide, which has offices in Hong Kong. He thinks they should instead concentrate on their unique properties. "Microsoft has Xbox, and this is its opportunity to integrate into the living room and be the search device of choice there, while Yahoo has content and, with acquisitions such as blog engine Tumblr and news aggregator Summly [which powers an excellent new app called Yahoo News Digest], has the opportunity to bring users to its platform and drive search there," Wallace says. "The reason that Google is so popular is that it just works so well," says Will McInnes, chief marketing officer at media monitor Brandwatch, which is based in Germany, the US and Britain. He thinks that the brand is now fully embedded in our social consciousness - as seen in the now-official verb "to google". "It's hard to see search engines like Yahoo or Bing becoming the new leader in the search arena," McInnes says. "Much like Microsoft's firm grip on operating systems with Windows a few decades ago, we've reached a saturation point in search within which it will now be very, very difficult to unseat Google - and may well require the drive of an Apple-like competitor to even begin to disrupt it." But there are some major players outdoing Google - most notably Baidu. "The biggest threats come from regional giants like Baidu, content-specific services such as Skyscanner or Tripadvisor, real-time search networks like Twitter, human-centric platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, and multimedia sites, which include Instagram, Pinterest and, of course, Google's own YouTube," McInnes says. "None will topple Google alone, but each might chip away at small corners of the behemoth's extensive reach." Baidu - which dominates search on the mainland (where Google is banned) at about 63 per cent - claims less than 20 per cent worldwide. Google clearly isn't the only way of surfing the web. If you're after the very latest news, it's better to use Twitter's hashtags, Pinterest's boards or Facebook's graph search rather than Google. "Google can only index things quickly, so if you're seeking data on events, programmes or stories that are still unfolding, then social media has emerged as a viable option to find the results you need," McInnes says. But niche search engines are emerging, usually with one killer app that does something specific Google can't match. None will take over from the Big G any time soon, but if you have a specific need, they're worth bearing in mind. For social media devotees, for example, Blekko blekko.com is easier to navigate than Google since it relies on slashtags. Offering what are essentially filters that keep searches themed - as happens on microblogging site Twitter - and free from spam and junk, Blekko is about curation of the internet by a team of editors to make searches quicker, but mainly it's about being different to Google. It's also available as an app, Izik, for smartphones and tablets. Wolfram Alpha wolframalpha.com is less a search engine and more a knowledge calculator. Type "International Space Station" into Wolfram Alpha and you'll get its orbital altitude, four kinds of velocity calculations, historical data on its launch, data on its previous astronauts, and a map showing exactly which point on earth the ISS is above at that moment. It even tells you which constellation it's currently passing in front of in the sky. This year, people will become comfortable with direct questions to search engines MAtt Brown, Unique Digital Creative Commons search.creativecommons.org is great if you're looking for copyright-free images, music or videos that you want to "share, use and remix"; Yelp yelp.com is ideal for searching your local area for bars and restaurants; while "visual discovery engine" Pinterest pinterest.com blends social and search with inspiration for shopping and home improvement projects. Music fans should go directly to Live Plasma liveplasma.com which displays the links between bands, band members, albums and related YouTube content in deliciously dynamic ways. Those after privacy should use a search engine that does not record and track searches, such as DuckDuckGo duckduckgo.com Startpage startpage.com or the Disconnect Search (disconnect.me/search) browser extension, which can be used to anonymise searches on regular search engines. If knowledge about people is what you're looking for, consider Ark ark.com A social browser plug-in that integrates with Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo Mail, Outlook and AOL Mail accounts, Ark displays tabs on your contacts within your e-mail account that list all of their social media accounts. Completely clickable, it's handy for those who frequently swap between platforms. Most analysts agree that voice search is the next front line for search engines, and it's an area that Google has been pioneering. "Though it's not been as game changing as people initially thought, voice search has changed behaviour and has turned short two or three word queries into sentences," Wallace says. Google Now and Siri have made asking a mobile phone questions a normal part of everyday life, but it's also about context. It's also an on-the-go service, so voice-based search ends up usually having a much different intent, but the bigger opportunity is to be predictive and to understand what a user is looking for before even searching. That's exactly what the Bing-powered Siri - found in all Apple devices - has started to do, while the new predictive voice search options built into the Xbox One could spread to all Windows devices. Intel is also known to be working on competitive voice-based search products. "The opportunity is for the technology to fade to the background and provide us what we need more quickly, rather than become a deeper engagement in our lives," Wallace says. The trend of using turns of phrase and direct questions to find things is now part of Google's search engine. "This year people will become comfortable with asking direct questions to search engines as well as their mobile phones," says Matt Brown, head of earned media at London-based digital media company Unique Digital. "The shift will set the scene for voice search to herald a new dawn in internet searches." The message? Don't avoid Google, but diversify your usage. "Google has become an addiction and it's a part of most of our lives on a daily basis - not just search in the traditional form, but Google Maps, Gmail and even predictive, with services like Google Now," Wallace says. "But just because it's there doesn't mean it's the best choice." Wallace recommends changing behaviour every few times you search, testing Bing when you're shopping for something online, Yahoo when you're looking for a video, or Yelp when you're looking for a restaurant. But if it's voice search and social media that constitute the biggest challenges to Google's global dominance, perhaps it's Facebook's combination of both that, in the long run, could make it the Big G's main challenger. "It's fair to say we can use Facebook's activities as a yardstick to measure the potential importance of new tools and techniques," Brown says. "So when Facebook acquired WhatsApp recently, tongues began wagging about the impact voice-driven capabilities could have on the platform, other social networks and the web as a whole." Whether it's dominated by Google or Facebook or something else, when it comes to the future of search, tongues will certainly wag.