Vanity Fair magazine has been teasing the reading public by posting excerpts of its upcoming online report about Microsoft. It touts the missteps made during Microsofts Lost Decade with Steve Ballmer leading the company as CEO, but says little about its technology successes during that period, including Bing.
The $6.2 billion write down Microsoft announced for its Online Services Division earlier this week underscores the trouble the company is having as it tries to make headway against Googles lead in Internet search and online advertising. However, Bing itself remains a promising and credible product.
The failed acquisition of digital marketing company aQuantive in 2007, which was designed to counter Googles acquisition of DoubleClick the same year, is the reason for the $6.2 billion write down. But Bing is not yet a financial success for Microsoft either because it hasnt provided the huge surge in search volume that Microsoft might have hoped for when it introduced the search engine in May 2009.
Try as it might, Bing cant seem to chip away at Googles search market share lead. Quarter-by-quarter Bing may gain a little while Google loses a little, but Bings market share remains stuck in the mid-teens percentagewise while Google remains safely in the mid-60s range.
Still, Bing works as a search engine. And despite snarky headlines like Do You Use Bing? Yeah, Me Neither from Forbes, for example, Bing is a competitive product and Microsoft has continued to improve the search platform.
It recently revamped its results page to include recommendations from Yelp when people are searching for a restaurant, resort, hotel or other business. Although this followed a similar move a few weeks earlier by Google to add Zagat reviews to its search results, the tie-in with the popular Yelp site and its 71 million unique monthly visitors is a coup nonetheless.
More importantly than the Yelp deal is Bings redesign, unveiled in May, which incorporates Bing search results on the left side of the screen with results related to the searchers Facebook friends on the far right. Search 2012 Ford Focus and the results could include links to dealer sites or car reviews, but also comments from Facebook friends who bought that car.
Bing also adds a middle column it calls Snapshot. If the user moves their cursor over one of the links on the left, some information about that link appears in the middle column with more details about that car, restaurant, hotel or whatever else is being searched.
And while its only cosmetic, Bings home page features fascinating high-definition photos from all over the world. Its a nice little surprise each time you go there.
These are all pretty innovative features, although Google has, of course, also been improving its search all along. But Microsofts challenge isnt whether Bing is any good but whether anybody knows that it is. Despite spending a reported $80 million to $100 million on the marketing of Bing in the first year after its 2009 launch, Microsoft had a marketing problem with Bing as well as a strategic problemthe aQuantive deal and its overhead.
The Website SeekingAlpha says the losses at Microsofts Online Services Business unit, of which Bing is a part, are owing to challenges associated with deteriorating advertising monetization, escalating online traffic acquisition costs and falling revenue per clicks.
I covered a Microsoft event in San Francisco in 2010 to mark the first anniversary of Bing. Members of the Bing team showed off all the projects they were working on to improve functionality.
I asked the Bing team what evidence they had that Bing had become a verb like Google has, such as I binged Lady Gaga and shes performing next week at Madison Square Garden. That would be a breakthrough in that Bing would become not just a product that Microsoft sells, a part of the popular culture. Unfortunately, their only evidence was anecdotal: I heard it in a Pepsi commercial, one of them offered.
Bing as a verb did make a guest appearance in the first season the new TV series Hawaii Five-O. In one episode, one member of the Five-O team recognized a piece of art that came up in an investigation as being by a particular artist, much to the surprise of one of his partners. "Don't believe me? Bing it!" he said.
How do I know this? I found it on Bing.