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Bing, Badda, Bust? August 17, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology.

Microsoft has a new search engine, Bing, and I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about it for a while now. The problem, however, was that I could never figure out exactly what I wanted to write about it. That is, until I got it into my head recently to just play around with Bing and see how it compared to today’s undisputed King of Search: Google.

With that in mind, I set out this week to see how a search on Bing would measure up to a search for the same thing over at Google (just good ol’ plain vanilla Google, though, and not the “caffeinated” new beta version) just for kicks.

Here’s how it went down (the screenshots open in a new window when clicked):

First, I began to wonder what would happen if you searched for “Bing” on either engine, curious to see how the Microsoft product would present itself, as well as how the reigning champ dealt with the new entrant (not to mention because I wanted to proudly say that I’d actually “Googled Bing”):

Both yielded similar results. Bing should score some points for the unrelated images immediately visible to the user, while Google gets similar props for showing other items of interest based on the search term, including news and a Wikipedia entry on Bing Crosby among the top results (because, hey, there are other “Bings” that people might be interested in). So I call this one a wash.

At this point, I started to wonder: what would happen if I searched for Google instead?

When I “Binged” Google (ha!), the search engine returned a sole result for Google.com and the rather dismissive description “Develops internet search technology” compared to the sexier description of Bing as “A search engine that finds and organizes the answers you need so you can make faster, informed decisions.” Of course, this may be more Google’s fault than Bing’s, considering that if you Google Google (haha!) there isn’t any description remotely useful. Still, comparing what one sees searching for Google on either engine, it doesn’t seem very sporting of the Microsoft product.

Then again, maybe the reason that there’re such paltry results for Google on Bing is because it associates the search term “Google” with Google the corporation in its entirety — entirely plausible, considering Bing presents search results for corporate websites in a similar way. With this in mind, I thought it’d only be fair to see what would happen if I searched for Microsoft:

Now this was somewhat amusing. As seen above, Google gets it right by listing as the first result the Microsoft Corporate Website, then a link to the Microsoft Download Center, then a link to some Microsoft Technical Support, and thereafter some news about Microsoft before proceeding to any number of other search results. But on Bing? The very first non-sponsored search result is for Microsoft Technical Support! Is this just a case of Microsoft trying to be helpful by assuming that people tend to search for help using their products, or is this a Freudian slip demonstrating that even Microsoft knows their products are chock full of bugs?

Either way, I think it’s hilarious.

Just to be objective, I thought it would be good to see if I searched for other competitors. So I settled on Yahoo:

Once more, it seems that Bing isn’t playing all that nice with its competitors.

But how about competitors of Microsoft? An interesting question. First up, Apple:

Seems like a wash. Next up, Linux (and thereby the Open Source movement):

Interestingly, this, too, seems like a wash. While Bing doesn’t treat Linux the same way does it does a corporate website (perhaps understandably), the “regular” treatment has the advantage of coming with the usual mouse-over pop-up preview that is absent when the engine returns corporate websites.

At this point, I decided to throw Bing a curveball and search for something hard. Knee-deep in a lot of research work lately, I wanted to see what would happen if I searched for R:

Granted, a search for a single letter that also happens to be open-source statistical software is by no means easy, but between the two Bing is a little bit behind the curve.

To cap things off — and fueled by ego — I decided to check what would happen if I searched for myself:

Lo and behold, my blog comes up as the first result on Google, not entirely surprising considering that it’s hosted on Blogger (which Google owns). In fairness, my Twitter feed also shows up on the search results, as does my blog’s WordPress mirror (further down on the page, outside the screenshot). On the other hand, while I don’t rate as highly on Bing, it does manage to return my Slideshare page after my blog, which I think is great.

So what’s the verdict? I’d say it’s too close to call. Google should be the odds-on favorite, not just because when I search for myself my blog comes out on top (natch!) but because it seems to get the job done better. Based on the above, it comes out ahead in terms of delivering search results that matter (to me, anyway). Bing doesn’t do itself any favors by coming across as dismissive of the competition, at least in terms of what was described above.

Not to mention that Bing makes Microsoft look completely incompetent by having “Tech Support” come up when searching for their parent company. But that’s another story altogether.

Yet, in spite of myself, I’m beginning to warm up to Bing. The overall aesthetic of its webpage is more attractive and its search results come across as less cluttered compared to Google’s. It certainly has the novelty factor going for it, and by all accounts promises to be a significant competitor to the company from Mountain View. In the end, it’s performance — speed, relevance and scope — that matters above all else in online search, so going forward it will be interesting to see how each will strive to innovate in order to capture (or maintain) the lion’s share of search queries on the internet.



1. Scott - August 17, 2009

“Not to mention that Bing makes Microsoft look completely incompetent by having “Tech Support” come up when searching for their parent company. But that’s another story altogether.”

That statement is just over the top. I’d be looking for Apple tech support when searching on Apple as well. Bing gave you a logical response. Granted Google’s was more thorough, but there was nothing wrong with Bing’s response (and certainly doesn’t make MS look “incompetent”.

I gather you dislike Microsoft…

2. Brian L. Belen - August 17, 2009

Thanks for the feedback. I grant you that I’m not overly fond of Microsoft. And I will be the first to admit that I was writing with tongue firmly in cheek.

Hyperbole aside, though, I stand by the assessment. Sure, when people search for “Microsoft” there will be a good number who do so out of interest to get some tech support. But to type in “Microsoft” and get “tech support” as the first unsponsored result? There’s something telling in that.

I guess I’m looking at it like word association. If “tech support” is the first thing off the top of my head when I hear “Microsoft”, you can be sure it’s not because I think they offer great service. More likely it’s because I assume they’ve got loads of problems. Is it a logical response? Perhaps. But it does take quite a leap of logic…unless one reads between the lines.

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