Saturday, May 30, 2009
I'm looking forward to trying Microsoft's new search engine, Bing. I have been hoping for a long time that somebody would take on Google on its own terms, and it looks like Microsoft is going to give it a credible shot. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt that Google has been trading at least as much on its hat as its cattle. It's search product is good, but it could be a lot better and the only way things get better is through competition. A lot of Google's success also seemed to depend uncomfortably on positive feedback effects, effects that promote a network monopoly. So, to get lots of visits to your site, the most important thing was your Google ranking in certain keyword searches. But this meant that you had to optimize your site for Google, which might mean making it difficult to use competing products. Many think not running Google AdSense on your site, for example, is a good way to lower your PageRank. But since the ranking algorithm is a holy of holy secret, good luck trying to prove that. Moreover, some critics claim that there is something pernicious in Bing's "decision engine" approach -- Bing puts on top the results it thinks will help you make a decision in certain categories, such as picking a travel destination or finding a doctor. Google, on the other hand, is supposed to keep all this under the hood, and rank results by a mysterious but highly Scientific process, that's even better for humans being out of the loop. The Google approach is said to be more objective and less eliteist somehow. But I don't buy it. My suscipion is that the Science going on is the science of maximizing ad revenues. My guess is that has a lot to do with what a "high quality" site is. By making it explicit that somebody is making their best guess about what you are looking for and pushing some restaurants or airlines to the top, Bing is being more transparent, not less. Bing can compete on whether it delivers what people are looking for. That, not cuteness, or not doing evilness, or hipness, or coolness, ought to be the measure of a search service. If this turns into a competition about service to us, and not brands, we will be the beneficiary. It is not from the benevolence of high tech companies that we should expect good search results. Let the war begin.