Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ba Da Bing!

Microsoft has recently launched it's new search engine, called Bing, with a massive advertising campaign. Excuse me. It's not a search engine. It's “the worlds first decision engine.” Whatever that means.

Okay, I know what that means. At least what Microsoft wants you to think it is. The thrust of the marketing campaign is that you get better tools for deciding which sites to bother. Of course, that's not the real purpose of Bing. At its heart, Bing is about sticking Google in the eye with a pointed stick. Not unlike the purpose of Google Chrome which is to kick Internet Explorer in the groin. As good as they are, neither delivers the knockout that these companies would like to deliver. And so it goes.

Being the hopeless tech geek that I am, I couldn't help messing around with Bing and found a few interesting surprises. The unique features that Microsoft has created have led me to use Bing pretty much the way I approach Chrome – it is more useful in certain circumstance but won't change my everyday habits.

Google is still my go-to search engine for most everyday uses in the much the same way Firefox is my everyday browser. When I want something quick and dirty, Google is my engine of choice. That's not going to change. It excels at finding the usual stuff quickly. If what I'm looking for will pop up in the first three entries, Google is great. Its clean interface helps, providing users the basics like the site name and summary, so that it is easy to identify a site quickly.

Bing is different. It is really good at organizing result sets. Like Google, you can toggle between different types of searches, such as Images, Video or News, using links at the top of the page. Unlike Google, the information on the page is arranged into logical categories, specific to the search, with the best hits displayed in each category. You can see more of the them if you like but that's usually pointless. If what you want is not in the top five hits, its not anywhere in the results.

For example, in searching for Helen Kane (a singer from the 1930s that was the model for Betty Boop), I get general results, then categories such as Songs and Albums. Even better, on the left side are similar searches. In this case, actors and musicians from the late 1920's and early 1930's are featured. Makes sense.

Together, these two features make it easier for me to drill into just what I want without complicated queries. For more obscure information, Bing makes it easier to find what I need by guessing some structure and organizing the results accordingly.

Another feature that Microsoft is touting is the little popup on the side of each entry that gives a more intelligent summary of the site. It's fine for what it does but is more of an amusement than a useful tool. You don't get enough to avoid clicking through to the site and the simple summary on the page is usually enough to decide if you want to click through in the first place. Cool technology in search of meaning.

There is yet another advantage to Bing, though the same could be said for Yahoo, Ask, and any other search engine – different results. The dirty little secret of all search engines is that the same query often returns different result sets. The search algorithms are based on statistical equations that can return different sets even when run on the same data. You can sometimes get different results from the same data set by rerunning the same queries on the same engine. Since the search is kind of fuzzy, the result set is not absolute. This has long been one of the reasons that professional researchers will often use more than one commercial database provider even when the underlying data is the same. I saw this a lot in the patent search game.

All that is to say that using multiple engines for particularly difficult searches is a good strategy in any event. When the quick Google search fails to get me what I want, I can now turn to Bing. I get some different results and some better organization.

Technology-wise, Microsoft has come up with excellent search software. Unfortunately, that is not enough to move people toward abandoning Google and using Bing as the search engine of first choice. Instead, it will be where you go when Google doesn't cut it. Good technology but bad business. Bad business because Bing needs advertising and lower hits translates to lower revenue. Bing is not a Google killer. More of a Google annoyer.

Let me put it another way. It's not going to go Ba Da Bing on Google.


ticker said...

Tom, I like the look of the Bing beta, particularly the pop-up previews that give you a sense of what each link is about before connecting. Your blog has lots of great stuff including this Bing overview. Keep it up!
- Tom (T3 Blog)

Tom Petrocelli said...

Thanks for the love.