Microsoft Name Does It No Favors in Search War Versus Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-03-27

Microsoft Name Does It No Favors in Search War Versus Google

News Analysis: eWEEK published a handful of stories regarding the strategy, future direction and new products from Microsoft's Bing.

While this fresh search engine continues to impress for its ability to not only help users quickly find goods and services, but purchase them, the software giant's lack of credibility in the Internet sector, and perhaps even its reputation as a monopolist, continues to hold it back.

Bing is what would be like if it had a great search experience and less merchandise clutter. But we digress. The following stories covered Bing's recent moves as we slide deeper into spring and hurtle toward Bing's one-year anniversary in June.

Microsoft Bing to Surface More Web Services, Director Says: Microsoft Bing Director Stefan Weitz discusses the idea of focusing on user intent instead of keyword search. Weitz says Microsoft is integrating more Web services to boost Bing's value for users. He wasn't fibbing. See below.

Microsoft Bing Director: Search Not a Zero Sum Game vs. Google: In this extension of the previous story, Weitz sees Bing competing in the market versus Google by focusing on user intent, not just keywords. This is the essence of Bing as it seeks to help users find information and conduct transactions without leaving the site.

Microsoft Exec Shows Off Bing on Windows Phone 7 Series, Foursquare: Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of the online audience group at Microsoft, unveiled several new Bing features at the Search Engine Strategies show in New York March 25. Bing on the Windows Phone 7 Series was OK, but the features overlaying user-generated photos and live streamed video on top of Bing Maps really got our attention. Expect these features by summer's end.  

Microsoft Bing Exec Shows New Search Features at SES NYC: See those aforementioned features in pictures in this slideshow.

These stories were interesting in their own way, offering news and strategic direction integral to Bing's growth. But the Bing coverage took off for eWEEK late last night when we published this piece detailing comments Mehdi made before unveiling the new features.

Prompted to discuss Microsoft's approach to search in the past, Mehdi admitted Google missed the boat in search a decade ago by failing to acknowledge the importance of the long tail.

This isn't the first time a Microsoft executive has admitted Microsoft's search business, or its broader Internet business for that matter, has been lacking. Still, the story commanded a Google News cluster well into Friday morning.

It's as though Google's search algorithm was waiting for negative Bing news and then pounced. Of course, we all know Google doesn't do that; It's the math, stupid. No human manually flaunting Microsoft's failings. No signals for keywords in content that would cast Microsoft and Bing in a negative life. Wink, wink.

The Google effect extended to readers, who were, by and large, pro-Google, anti-Microsoft or both. Check out the comments on the following page.

Microsoft Bings Uphill Fight vs. Google

"Amazing, MS actually thinks it understands this problem space. MS does not realize that it will never solve these problems by using brute force tactics (throwing tons of money and engineers at it) or stealing it from someone else. Oh and even though MS stole its way to the top, it can't stay there forever because sooner or later, real innovators will knock it down."

Or, in a self-described Microsoft shareholder's words:

"Mehdi has been in charge of MSN and Search for a decade or longer. After a while the excuses ring hollow and I have to think it is time for a change at the top. Msft/MSN has done nothing to innovate in on-line services since the mid-90s. Everything is reactionary; there is no vision and there is too much $$ from Windows and Office to paper over the errors. IMHO it is time to fire the coach and bring in someone with a vision and strategic plan."

Despite the new features and technologies and market share growth from 8 percent to 11.5 percent in less than a year, Bing is still facing a Sisyphean task in challenging Google. Microsoft's decadelong failures in the digital realm, in which the company lost billions, continue to plague the company.

We can't help but also wonder whether Microsoft's reputation is still reeling from the DOJ antitrust case from more than a decade ago. If that legal stain on Microsoft's reputation keeps Bing from gaining significant traction, it would be a shame.

We believe Weitz, Mehdi, search whiz Qi Lu and others working on Bing have the right idea on where search is headed. But Bing won't get there if the anti-Microsoft sentiment continues to creep in and the Google Creep-the company's spread across the entire computer industry-continues.   

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle offered eWEEK this take:

"Since Google is already dominant, this is a bigger problem for Microsoft who needs to get people to try and then stay with their search offering. As Apple and politics (unfortunately) show us, it isn't enough to just be out there and suggest you might be a little better; you have to make folks distrust or dislike what they are currently using, otherwise they won't move. Think of the fax machine. It has been obsolete for nearly two decades, yet folks still regularly use it as a way to share documents.

"Bing is a good product, but then Google is adequate, and until large numbers of people see Google as inadequate, they won't move. This is actually more perception than reality. It really doesn't matter whether Google is bad and Bing is good; it matters that people perceive that to be the case." 

How can Bing effectively challenge Google? It won't happen on Google News, where readers lurk to knock down Microsoft, the biggest search upstart to ever challenge Google.

For Bing to succeed, it needs to turn the tables on Google, for example, by helping the government prosecute Google for anti-competitive practices. Hence, the proxy war.

Yet even as government wolves darken Google's door on issues such as Google Buzz, Google Book Search and its generally gluttonous growth on the Web, widespread anti-Microsoft sentiment persists.

This is wild ride. Strap in and enjoy.

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