Bing: how the FT and other media missed the real story

I have been playing with Bing for a little while now, so here’s my thoughts. The first thing that struck me about Bing is that most media commentators don’t get it. A classic example of what I mean is The search continues by Paul Taylor of the Financial Times (June 4, 2008). In his article Paul compares Bing to Google.

Steve Ballmer would definitely like to be Google, because he knows that the Microsoft heartland of productivity and enterprise software is going to be offering much lower margins when it goes into cloud computing. Ballmer has no choice but to go after the search market.  But in order to fight the shark in the fish tank he first of all has to get Microsoft’s search products up to a challenger weight to take on Google. The first way that this is happening is the efforts that Microsoft has done to use Google’s size and success against itself in a set of regulatory judo moves. The second step is try try and fatten up on smaller fry.

If you are going to gobble up one of the smaller fish you don’t have that many choices. Whilst Yahoo! got mauled by Microsoft, having to jettison Yang from the CEO chair along the way, it is still alive and kicking with a larger marketshare than MSN/Live/Bing search (though curiosity kicked Bing into second place for a few days during its launch).

The ideal second choice is Ask.com.

Why Ask.com?

  • Ask’s promise of being a natural language search engine where you could ask questions set the bar low enough that Microsoft could at least try and match it with Bing by utilising the expertise and technology Microsoft got when it acquired PowerSet
  • A lot of Ask’s traffic comes from toolbars that sit in the chrome of a browser (thats the grey bit above the web page where the address box and the buttons are).  Given that in 2005,  at one point Microsoft was even tagging Ask’s MyWebSearch toolbar as a “Toolbar Browser Hijacker”, it would be easy to sweep those busy married women along with a new complex web browser like IE8 that they don’t have the time to customise and a search web page that looks a lot like what they usually go to anyway

 

Bing JPG

In case you missed that last statement the likeness of the Ask.com home page and the Bing home page are strikingly similar in customisation and layout.

Ask JPG

The positioning against Google is try and give Bing some credibility but the results and the search audience experience says that its all about Ask.com. Do you think Bing would have really got any air time from Paul Taylor if they had said we’ve brought out a new search engine that is just like Ask.com?

It would seriously damage Microsoft’s aspiration to be seen as an industry innovator rather than kludging together products that kind of look like the real thing. The copier is something that the company has been dubbed with countless times before for good reason:

  • DOS versus CP/M
  • Windows versus the Mac
  • Zune versus iPod/iTunes
  • SQL Server versus Oracle or IBM DB2
  • XBox versus PlayStation

Bing isn’t truly innovative (I am sure people worked hard to get it out the door in the same way they would at a Russian tractor factory, but its not innovative in a transformational way); its an imitation of a well-established fading product in Ask. It is the search engine equivalent of an over-the-hill punch drunk journeyman boxer who is easy prey for a frustrated large but untalented bully to reign down punches on. The whole thing feels a bit grubby to me: less successful crooning innovator Bing Crosby (he helped pioneer the use of tape recorders in studios, funding Ampex’s research into the area building on AEG’s Magnetophon), more like the mafioso catchphrase Bada Bing.