This has been one busy month when it comes to search. In mid May, Stephen Wolfram brought us the first public release of his computational knowledge engine, ‘Wolfram Alpha‘. Then there was the announcement that Google would be releasing their new ‘Google Squared‘ product, and finally there was the release of ‘Bing‘ microsoft’s much anticipated successor to ‘live seach‘ .
Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer Unveiled BING.com at the ‘All Things D conference’ in San Diego, on 28th May, and it went ‘public’ a few days later on 3rd June.
There have been several rumors going around, concerning the story behind on the name, ‘Bing’. The official line is that it is a short, memorable and globally acceptable name, with positive connotations, reminiscent of the noises often made at moments of arrival or discovery. Steve Ballmer is said to have told ‘Wired magazine’ that he had drawn some inspiration from the charachter Chandler Bing’s name in TV show friends. But my personal favourite is that it stands for ‘But Its Not Google’.
When it comes to search, Microsoft seem to never quite made it into the big leagues. And in fairness to them, I don’t think its has been as much to do with the technology, as it has been to do with the way they’re perceived. Google made it to critical mass first, and built a brand trust and loyalty that now seem to be almost unbreakable, even though the products themselves were pretty similar.
Its interesting then that Microsoft have chosen to position themselves as a ‘discovery engine’ rather than a ‘search engine’, possibly making a decision to go with a large portion of a niche market, rather than trying to compete head on with the Google , Yahoo’s for the middle ground.
Here’s microsoft’s introduction to Bing to give you a flavour of what its all about…
Sounds pretty cool, huh? But how did I find it when I took it for a spin.. well, I have to admit initially I wasn’t that impressed, and when Microsoft evangelist Steve Clayton wrote about it on his blog ‘geek in disguise‘, I left a comment saying as much, but Steve being Steve challenged me to back up by words with some examples. So I decided I’d better take a closer look, and dig around a little more, before answering that challenge. What I found was; its actually pretty good at a consumer level. If you want help getting information to buy a product, make a trip or look up a general local or health information, then it does take some of the work out of making sense of the search results, In fact the more basic your search, the more help you’ll get, so for example if your enter ‘digital cameras’ it will bring back lots of information it will split this into categories, like brands, types, accessories and images, it will suggest a selection of related searches, it will order the information by relevancy bringing you the best matches at the top and picking out key data from deep within pages and its even has a price prediction technology to help you save money on any purchases. But if you’re searches are more complex, if you’re doing academic study or looking for specialist information, you’re much less likely to see any of these features, I do tend to do this type of ‘power searching’ and that may be why initially not wowed by bing, because at that level you don’t see many of the blingy consumer features. Another reason that I didn’t see the full features of bing on first test, was that I had the UK set in my preferences, but at the present the full feature set is only enabled if you sellect ‘United States (English)’.
Other things I noticed were; when I ‘Binged myself’ it brought up my webite after my Facebook and Linked-in accounts, and it worked better if I key ‘Who is David Coxon’ rather that just searched on my name (go on ‘Bing’ yourself – you know you want to!), I also noticed that when I looked for images, the image retrieval was really fast, but not as relevant as the live search results were, video results were nicely presented, with the ability to watch the movies directly in the search window without having to click through to the source. another strange one was that I got better results searching with the incorrect spelling of centre when I search for ‘Baltic centre for contemporary art’ perhaps this is because I was using the US preference though, and when i search for ‘contemporary art galleries in gateshead’ it didn’t find Baltic at all, but rather only came back with a gallery in Darlington (30 miles away) the same search on Google placed Baltic at the top of a list of 10 within 2 miles of Gateshead and 30 within the area.
In my opinion, Bing could have done with a little longer in Beta, before being released. They should have at least got all the core functionality working, in each of the key regional setting working. At the moment you only see the advanced options working when you have your regional setting set to United States English so see the full functionality of Bing.
Although Steve Ballmer stated Microsoft are like a startup compared to the market leaders Google, it is rumoured that microsoft are spending 80-100 million on the Ad campaign for Bings launch this summer. Here is how the ad looks…
All in all, I think that that Microsoft have made the right decision to go down the route of ‘doing something differently, but doing that incredibly well” – it’s a good business plan and it might work! It’s rushing into it , launching a prduct before its ready, (even if that is partially because your contemporares have released their’s) and insisting on going ahead with a huge markiting project for that product before its ready – is nothing short of insanity. As for going down the consumer route, again I think is the right way to go for Microsoft, its the far less costly, its more sustainable and easier to achieve. I hope in time that they’ll go to apply the same features to other areas and cater for researchers as well as the consumer market.
Resources: Bing tones for your phone