Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bing Bang Boom

I've seen it. I've tried it. I'm bored.

OK. That's not entirely fair. All the hoopla around the emergence of Microsoft's new search engine Bing has made me testy.

Bing isn't all that bad as a search engine. There's nothing particularly new here (except the name) and lots of copy cat behavior. Overall it is an improvement over its predecessor, Live Search. But why all the ruckus?

Why? Because Microsoft is out to "win". All their business strategies focus on displacing the current industry leader and taking command of the market so they can then use that position to promote (or as they like to say "integrate") all their other products. Oh yes, there's the usual nod to improving the user experience and enhancing productivity. But the ultimate goal is market dominance.

And they are willing to spend the money to do it. Ten million dollars, purportedly. One might say "what's so wrong with that? This is a free market economy isn't it?" Yes it is. On the other hand, I don't know if Seth Godin was thinking about Microsoft as he was writing it, but his blog entry strikes me as very apropos when he says "you're boring." As Seth put it, the "half-price sale on attention is now over."

I'm not as sanguine as Seth. I think there is still a lot of attention that can be bought. And Microsoft has done it over and over again. Internet Explorer, Office, even Windows itself. Why do you think they redesign the logos of their products for every version? And the user interface? To make them look new. To give the consumer (particularly the corporate consumer) a reason for upgrading.

I am tired of Microsoft buying their way into the market with mediocre, me-too products. What's annoying is that their products aren't that bad. Windows has grown up into quite a reasonable OS. And Office has most of the features any normal human being could want. Unfortunately, it also has bucket loads of features that 90% of humanity will never need and that get in the way of finding the useful ones, simply as part of the one upmanship of product sequels.

And now we have Bing. What is really annoying about Bing is that it might be a good search engine. I'm not sure. A competitor to Google? Unlikely, but possible. But I am so sick of Microsoft's aggressive business practices (usually at the expense of the user), that I am soured to everything it does and Bing suffers for it.

But I did try Bing. And it's OK.

  • The top horizontal function menu is borrowed wholesale from Google, as is the stripped down functional layout.
  • The design does has a nice, clean visual feel.
  • There's been a lot of touting of the popup excerpts for search results. But haven't we had abstracts since AltaVista 14 years ago?
  • The Related Searches sidebar is nice. But not nice enough to make me replace my current favorite search engine.

And that is where Microsoft has a problem. They sell plenty of software in the corporate world. But internet search is a personal choice. And a fickle one at that. They will be able to buy a certain amount of attention with advertising, but ultimately they need a significant change in functionality to make people change their ways. And I don't see it in Bing.

So, failing to win technically, they now want to win by subterfuge. Bing touts itself as something new, a "decision engine". Excuse me? What decisions is it making? Even if I liked Bing enough to try it, this hyperbolic nonsense is enough to make me want it to fail simply to spite Microsoft's incessant marketing machine.

Which is a shame. Bing is a decent search engine. I feel sorry for the engineers who have put their time into it because, ultimately, its success or failure will have little to do with their efforts compared to the animosity and confusion Microsoft's business practices generate in the market.

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