My first Op-Ed was published in the Indian express today. Do check it out and leave some comments. Constructive criticism welcome. :)
Microsoft’s much-touted search engine is here and it’s got a catchy, onomatopoeic name — Bing. It’s the closest thing to a Google challenger we’ve seen so far and yet, strategically, Bing isn’t taking Google head-on. At best, it hopes to take a bite out of Yahoo’s search market share. After years of failed attempts, one is relieved that the search category is finally being given serious thought by the folks at MS. A successful search product can also turbo-charge their online advertising platform adCenter, translating to revenue. A first look at Bing with its large background image and otherwise bare pages suggests that Microsoft has applied its ‘make it pretty and have an 80-million dollar marketing budget’ theory.
Make no mistake though; Bing is not a pig wearing lipstick. It scores highly on speed, features, usability and performance. Google itself has been forced to re-invent itself many times to retain its number one slot. In doing so, it has stood its ground in the face of competition from established search engines like Yahoo as well as innovative niche sites like Dogpile (meta-search), Clusty (categorising search) and even the recently hyped computing search engine Wolfram Alpha.
The heart of a search engine is its algorithm - the logic behind displaying search results in a particular order from a given set of keywords. Google’s ‘PageRank’ is stable and proven and it is this that will be the biggest mountain to climb for a tyro like Bing in the search space. Bing counters this by organising its results based on what other searchers found most relevant for a particular keyword. Whether this provides meaningful search results still remains to be seen, and will be the single largest factor that determines the rise or fall of Bing.
For regular web searches, the number of search results that Bing displays is considerably lower in comparison to Google, although you’re probably unlikely to notice the difference. For example, a search on ‘Sampras’ yielded 720,000 odd results — over a million less than Google’s count but still large enough for the average human being. Interestingly, Bing also plugs its own ‘related searches’ into the results page, and displayed results for ‘Sampras Blog’, ‘Sampras Movies’ and ‘Sampras Posters’ as well. Performance-wise, Bing fared excellently and unlike Google, it doesn’t really go out and show this off by displaying how many nanoseconds the search took.
There are other hits and misses for Bing. A glaring miss is the easy access that Bing currently provides to pornographic material. Admittedly, you do need to turn off the safe search option, but that is just a matter of three clicks. Also, Bing redirected my Indian computer to the UK version of the site. Currently the non-US sites are not nearly as good as the US version, so for now only the US version is worth really checking out. In terms of usability, Bing avoids the mouseclick like the plague. For web searches, a nice little preview feature lets a user see more content from the target page in addition to the regular ‘snippet’ without actually clicking the search result.
Bing’s image search replaces pagination with infinite scrolling. Essentially, this implies that every time you scroll to the bottom of the results page, new results are appended and the scroll bar is reset to somewhere in the middle. Video search is even better — you can preview the video simply by pointing your mouse at a thumbnail in the search result. This is a nifty little feature given how bandwidth is ceasing to be an issue in today’s YouTube age. There are also a number of other features such as instant answers, shopping and health related search features and a session history that is maintained without you having to login. While some of these are exciting, they are merely accessories to a search portal, not central features.
Bing doesn’t quite change the rules of the game just yet, but Google-centric small businesses in the area of search engine optimisation (SEO) will do well to stay on top of its developments. It is a great opportunity for these businesses to invest in some Bing-related SEO strategies at an early stage and learn the ropes in case Google loses some market share in the near future. Microsoft may integrate Bing into the next release of Internet Explorer and Windows in some way or the other. This means that even if Bing is a close match to Google, its market share could potentially explode.
En fin, it’s a close call, but I’d stick with Google for now for a single reason — PageRank. Microsoft has taken giant steps in the right direction to get people ‘Binging’, but as the recursive acronym itself suggests, Bing is not Google.
The writer is an IT services consultant and blogs at http://blog.rohandsa.com