Microsoft says that its brand-new search engine, Bing, delivers results that are just as good as those of its competitors. But Bing is no mere imitator, slavishly copying those that have gone before. Just compare a search for ‘Bing market share’ on Bing with the same search as performed by what Microsoft coyly calls the ‘market leader’. Despite the undoubtedly unprejudiced algorithmic approach of both technologies, the results look very different.
The headlines according to Bing: ‘Microsoft gets search market share boost with Bing’; ‘Bing overtakes Yahoo!’ Don’t be so sure, says Google: ‘Bing market share: it’s just too early to tell’; ‘Bing’s market share ripple’. Perhaps we could put the anomaly down to a difference of ethos. Microsoft: upbeat, optimistic, cute. Google: sceptical, questioning, severe. Of course, scepticism can easily shade into sarcasm, which may explain Google’s suggestion when you search for ‘Bing’ itself:
In fact, you might not even get as far as clicking the search button. These days, further suggestions appear as you type. As soon as you’ve entered the letters ‘b’ and ‘i’, Google suggests all sorts of alternatives:
Microsoft has included the same feature. This is a mistake:
Various commentators have agreed with Microsoft that Bing’s search results are practically indistinguishable from Google’s. I suspect this may be because they’ve been experimenting with the easy stuff, like their own names. With most real-life queries, the difficulty is knowing what’s actually being searched for. Google has a presumably insurmountable advantage in this game, having been at it for ten years. Every time you search on Google you feed it more data. If you don’t find what you’re looking for first time round – if, say, you don’t click on any of the results and reformulate your query – the megabrain has learned something new about what you were looking for in the first place. It’s quite scary. If you can’t tell the difference between Microsoft’s David and Google’s Goliath, try searching for someone else‘s name for a change.
Microsoft should be cheering about one thing at least. Despite a long battle, Google Inc has failed to keep the verb ‘to google’ out of the dictionary, a development that puts its trademark at risk. Microsoft has been cleverer. I ‘binged’ it? I ‘bang’ it? It was ‘bung’? It’s not going to stick. Clever, but in a way a shame. Since Microsoft has been known to pay people for searching with them, ‘bung’ wouldn’t be inappropriate.