ComScore, Inc, a leader in measuring the digital world, just released a study on growth in the global search market for 2009 and showed that searches have grown 46% globally. The study revealed that the U.S. remains the largest search market worldwide, while Google retains a commanding lead in the worldwide search market. The U.S. grew 22% from December 2008 to December 2009, with 22.7 billion searches, while China followed with 13.3 billion searches, but only grew 13% year over year.

The total worldwide search market boasted more than 131 billion searches conducted by people age 15 or older from home and work locations in December 2009, representing a 46-percent increase in the past year. This number represents more than 4 billion searches per day, 175 million per hour, and 29 million per minute.

Google took account of 66.8% of those searches, with 87.8 billion searches worldwide, and a growth rate overall of 58%. That is not too bad, although little Microsoft saw the greatest gains among the top five properties, growing 70 percent to 4.1 billion searches, on the strength of its successful introduction of new search engine Bing

While Bing still remains the “little engine that could,” in the grand scheme of things it does maintain a rather small market share globally. However that could all change, if Google follows through with its threat to leave the China (see “Is the ‘Net’ Wall Of China The Next Iron Curtain?” and “Google Is No Secretary Of State When It Comes To Diplomacy In China” for some deep background into this global issue). With Google out of the picture, it’s current 31% market share in the country could be split up between Bing and Baidu (China’s national search engine).

The irony that lies at the core of this debate is that Microsoft ‘s capitalistic interests could be rewarded in a communist country if it continues to abide by the Chinese government’s control over free expression. Microsoft stands to win by adding more Yuan to its coffers, while Google stands to lose market share in addition to revenues. Many see it as self-interest versus principle. Others note if you don’t bank your principle, you won’t earn any interest.

While I understand both sides of the debate, I keep reminding myself of the old adage: ” you keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Which also means that tucking your tail between your legs and retreating from a superpower the size of China might not be Google’s wisest move.

According to Martin Jacques, author of “When China Rules the World…” – Google will be obliged to either accept Chinese’s censorship policies or exit the world’s largest Internet market, with serious consequences for its long-term global ambitions. This, according to Jacques, “is a metaphor for our times: America’s most dynamic company cannot take on the Chinese government – even on a issue like free and open information – and win.” He adds, “Google’s fate is a sign of the world to come, and the sooner we come to appreciate the nature of a world run by China, the better we will be able to deal with it.”

It’s a sobering forecast, but one that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

– Ron Callari