Does Bing have enough bling?
For years, Microsoft has been struggling to chip away at Google’s dominance in the search engine market. And for years, they have been largely unsuccessful, mainly because their own search engine, Microsoft Live Search, produced unwanted and often irrelevant results.
But a few weeks ago, Microsoft released Bing, an updated version of Live Search, in their newest attempt to knock Google off its pedestal.
Although Bing is partially a rebranding of Live Search, it does include new features like instant previews of Web sites and videos.
Microsoft is so committed to Bing’s success that it will launch an astronomical $80 million to $100 million advertising campaign. That’s more than four times Google’s entire advertising budget last year.
It’s been hard to determine how Microsoft’s newcomer is stacking up against its two greatest competitors, Google and Yahoo!. According to StatCounter, one of the world’s largest Web analytics companies, Bing temporarily overtook Yahoo! in terms of market share. Currently, however, Google has 81.5 percent of the search engine market, with Yahoo! at 9.39 percent and Bing at 4.82 percent.
But one Microsoft employee, Michael Kordahi, thinks that some users might be prejudiced against Bing because of Google’s perceived brand name superiority.
He created a blind search engine that shows the search results of Google, Yahoo! and Bing in three nondescript columns. The Web site then invites users to vote for the most relevant results.
Unfortunately, the results were too erratic to name any consistent winner, prompting Kordahi to conclude that “some douche is gaming the system.”
I must confess that, as someone who has had bad experiences with Live Search, I prefer Google. Before I could adequately review the usefulness of Bing, I thought I should first experiment with the blind search engine myself.
So, in completely unscientific fashion, I typed in ten random searches – five single words and five phrases – and picked the results I thought were most valuable and applicable.
And the results were somewhat surprising: While Google crushed the competition with six votes, Bing received a surprising three votes, and Yahoo! just one vote.
It seems I find Microsoft’s search engine a fairly legitimate contender in the battle for supremacy, although Google is still the undisputed champion.
But how do Bing’s other search capabilities like News and Maps compare against Google’s?
Well, I certainly found that the Bing homepage looks pretty. The search bar is superimposed on a beautiful panoramic stock photo that changes every day. Each picture is embedded with invisible squares about the picture that users can click on for more information.
But while this design is certainly unique, Bing’s hide-and-go-seek feature is basically self-promotion masquerading as helpful innovation.
Each square merely redirects users to a search through Bing. For example, clicking on “Learn more about Flag Day” directs the user to a Bing search of “Flag Day.”
But Bing does have some helpful, interesting features.
Unlike Google, Bing’s image search displays the results in one giant scrollable window, thereby eliminating the annoying need to click on multiple pages. And Bing Cashback offers buyers to receive a small percentage back of payments they have made on participating Web sites.
These are Bing’s best features, however, and ultimately Bing still plays second fiddle.
Bing News lacks all the customizability, readability and wealth of information that exists in Google News. Bing only features 14 translatable languages to Google’s 41.
And while Bing Maps is speckled with aesthetically pleasing mountains and forests, it cannot easily display directions and locations like Google Maps.
We must remember, though, while developers have made significant blunders along the way, Bing is still being improved.
They failed to realize, for example, that Bing can mean “sickness” in Chinese (the nationality of Bing’s biggest audience), prompted a name change to “Biying,” meaning “must respond,” which Microsoft is coyly marketing as a “decision engine.”
And they received criticism when Bing’s filtering mechanism could not adequately block porn in its parental settings, which was quickly rectified when the company consulted 25 security vendors for assistance.
Microsoft is certainly improving its image as a legitimate search engine competitor. But the company needs much more innovative firepower before successfully waging war against the Google Empire.