01 June 2009

MS Chanandler Bong

I, no doubt like many of you out there, have been trying out Microsoft's new search engine Bing over the last day or so. I am not the most techie of my friends, far from it, but do find myself using different competing online services in different situations, rather than adopting a "one size fits all" approach.

My choice of web-browsers is a good example. On my MacBook Pro I tend to use Camino due to its low processor consumption, whereas on my significantly more powerful iMac I am happy to use Firefox 3. On my iPhone I am forced to use mobile Safari, but now that I've been trying out the Nokia e75 in advance of the release of the N97 I've been using (and loving) Opera Mini. My webdesigner mates swear by Google Chrome, and if Mountain View ever gets off its backside and releases a usable version for the Mac I'll probably give that a go as well.

Search engines are a bit different though. While I am not a fan of all-powerful monopolies in any industry, it has to be said that Google search just works, and I rarely find myself using anything else. However the thought has arisen on occasion that perhaps Google is not actually that good, rather that I have been conditioned by many years of using Google to search for information in such a way that is compatible with their technology.

Much has been made recently of Google's difficulty in providing real-time search results, and many comparisons have been made with Twitter live trend and search info, though I must admit to still being on the fence over the intrinsic value of crowd-sourced information. While the media jumped on the usage of Twitter to inform the world about the Hudson plane crash, a quick look through most days Twitter trending topics is more likely to produce a feeling of nausea after having to wade through a million 'OMG Susan Boyle woz robbed' tweets to find the one nugget of actual news. Similarly while Wikipedia may boast over 2,900,000 articles, 2,800,000 of them are about the X-Men. The Wisdom of Crowds is not worth that much when the crowds you are sourcing are idiots.

Live Search is important for Google because if they were able to pull actual breaking news from other sites and include it in their results they would keep more people on their site and thus generate more revenue from ads. This is the motivation behind last weeks other big launch, Google Wave, whereby Google seeks to change their users behavior and draw them into a single service that would replace email, chat, twitter updates, social network pages and forums, and is an interesting about-face for a company that traditionally has espoused stickiness, seeking to direct users away from its home page as quickly as possible; it is ironic that just as Yahoo, Google's former nursemaid and sometime rival, seems doomed to slide ever further into obscurity Google now is firmly embracing the concept of the web portal through both Wave and its personalised homepage service, iGoogle.

With all this in mind I spent the weekend using Microsoft's Bing and on the whole found it not to be a major improvement. The expanding snippets at the side of the results seem more of a gimmick than a feature, and overall the web search doesn't do that much to distinguish itself from Yahoo or Google. The Image search is interesting, with a good layout, nice thumbnail view options, and search filters including searching for photos, illustrations, or even just headshots.

All of these are interesting, but what really lets the service down is its core feature, the value of its search results, it simply doesn't index as many pages as either Google or Yahoo. While I am the first to admit that I rarely look beyond the first page of results, without that indexing the value of the results returned have to be questioned. A simple search for "Booming Back" in all three engines is shown above; Google and Yahoo (quite rightly) list my blog as the first result, followed by the other domain I own (boomingback.com) before they get into the usual Junkie XL album info. While Bing does display my .com page, they seem not to have indexed my blog at all, I looked through about twenty pages of results and didn't see my blog at all.

A similar search for 'Unkie Dave' on Google produces 1) my blog, 2) my twitter stream, 3) more twitter, 4) my sound cloud profile etc, on Yahoo it returns 1) my Jaiku profile, 2) my blog, 3) my twitter and 4) my SoundCloud page. So far, so good. Things go slightly awry on Bing, however, returning 1) some 47 year old guy's myspace page (not me), 2) my SoundCloud page, 3) my boomingback.com page, and then further down the page my name listed in the contacts page of a few folks on Jaiku. Nowhere does my actual blog appear, let alone appear as the main returned result.

It is possible that there is some conflict between Blogger and Bing's spiders, but other .blogspot blogs seem to be showing up. My only conclusion is that somebody in Microsoft doesn't like my blog, and doing a quick look through the last month's traffic I see that indeed one single person from Redmond looked at my blog in the last month, sticking around for about three minutes before exiting.

Very suspicious.

So my overall verdict on Bing is nice try, but not enough to distinguish it from my service of choice, and missing certain crucial elements that leads to a disappointing service for this particular user.

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