I was with everyone else when the announcement of Bing.com was made. “A conversation engine? What the hell is that!?!”
Well of course, kids, that’s marketing. Microsoft couldn’t beat Google at search, so they just changed “search” to “decision.” So now they own the “Decision Engine market” because Google never thought of that particular euphemism. It’s not unlike when Starbuck’s started serving “Frappuccinos.” Ice blended drinks had been around for years, but since no one thought to call them, “Frappuccinos,” Starbucks became the winners in the Frappuccino business.
But so what? Bing’s been out a little while now, and I’ve had a chance to tool around with it. And I am happy to announce, Microsoft has effectively become Ask.com. The layout and sidebar features offer the same content, and the results are of the same quality. If Ask is paying attention, they really might want to consider whether or not they’ve been in the decision engine market all these years.
Their media searches are much better than they have been, but this is more a sign that Microsoft has learned to catch up. It has videos from the major sites (Youtube, Vimeo, Viddler, Metacafe) as well as the media outlets and their own video. (Fox, NBC, USA Today.) The results are far less anemic than I remember MSN or “Live” results being. Welcome to the party, Bing.
Ditto for the image searches – a lot of content, not a lot of deciding. Is that unfair? Perhaps – but Microsoft made this label up, so they should have to answer for it. If I do an image search for, “pizza,” how exactly is this different than if I do an image search on Yahoo?
The web search results (I have to stop calling them “decision results” – it’s silly) are roughly the same quality as Google. The layout incorporates that “Universal Search” philosophy that has taken two years to become an overnight success. But those maps and images and accompanying information appear at the bottom of the page instead of the top. IMHO, It’s a rather lame way to differentiate themselves from their search brothers.
I also find it rather disappointing that Bing didn’t incorporate one of Google’s better features, offering the correct spelling of a word if you search using the wrong spelling. You see, I had no idea how to spell “Frappuccino” when I kept referencing them. While Bing didn’t clue me in to my error, Google did. It’s an easy feature that should have been included, especially since so many of us need copy editors in our daily lives.
Given the marketing budget behind Bing, here’s what I think will happen: They will continue to grab up more and more market share in search, just as they did with Live, just as Ask did two years ago. But eventually people will stay with Google, because they’ve been using it so long. They definitely have a better product then they had before, but the majority of users still don’t search things – they “Google” them. (Google’s own hand in redefining the market shows itself in this.)
So who will benefit the most from this? For now, my Dad – he got a Hotmail account sometime during the Hoover administration, and as a dedicated Luddite has no intention of switching to anything else. This means every search he does is on a Microsoft product. He is typical of his age group, so boomers will continue to be the base for MSN/Live/Bing, while the rest of us use Google, our Moms use Yahoo!, and Twitter Search will be the choice for the truly smart ass among us.
Microsoft’s one shot at getting a leg up will be to promote themselves as the search engine for pre-teens and teens. In ten years they will be in that target demo that Google has now, and those of us who are the current target… won’t. Microsoft definitely has the money to keep their advertising juggernaut running forever if need be. If they can manage no to re-brand themselves yet again, and do real work appealing to their future adult customers, then I think it will have a shot.