The New York Times Aug. 1 published this nice piece about how Google is aping some of Microsoft Bing's newer features.
That's something I've been tracking for awhile and been meaning to write about but backburnered for other newsy things. Good thing Google Watch lets me opine on others' coverage.
But I don't think the Times has zeroed in on what this means for Bing and Google. I'll come back to that. Here's what the Times said:
"Microsoft closely, mimicking some of Bing's innovations -- like its travel search engine, its ability to tie more tools to social networking sites and its image search -- or buying startups to help it do so in the future."
"Google has even taken on some of Bing's distinctive look, like giving people the option of a Bing-like colorful background, and the placement of navigation tools on the left-hand side of the page."
All of these points are well met. Let's work backwards to chart the way Google has imitated or at least followed Bing.
In May, Google released search refinements in the left-hand rail that lets users slice and dice info in many different ways.
Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, told others and the Times these tools had existed but that Google was just surfacing them better.
OK, so no one is arguing what is new, but it's the similarity to Bing's layout the Times and the rest of us are talking about.
Google aped Bing again in June by offering users the chance to customize their homepage (not their fully customizable iGoogle homepage) by adding a favorite photo. Bing out of the gate offered colorful backdrops on its homepage.
Most recently, Google launched its most aggressive assault on Bing in July when it bid to acquire ITA Software.
ITA provides travel search information for Bing Travel and myriad other Websites. If Google secures ITA, it will own the info used by Bing. That's crazy!
Mayer said Google will use ITA's technology to build new flight search tools that will make it easier for users to search for flights, compare flight options and prices and shuttle users to a site to purchase tickets. (read: "be more like Bing")
Finally, Google just revamped Google Image Search with tiled images and a hover pane, among other perks.
So that makes at least five instances where Google appears to have parroted Bing within the past seven or eight months.
So what does this mean? That Bing can't win, magnifying the importance of Microsoft buying market share through Yahoo. Let's look at the numbers.
Bing was born in June 2009 and while the search engine has gained market share, growing from 8 percent to 10 to 13 percent, depending on whose numbers you believe, Google hasn't lost any share. The company claims 65 percent in the United States.
Many users try Bing but they mostly head back to Google because they are familiar and comfortable with it and probably other Google Web services such as Gmail.
Bing can keep pumping out new features, and Google can keep copying them. This deprives Bing of claiming it offers something Google doesn't.
With Google matching Bing's feature sets, there is no practical differentiator. That's a huge competitive advantage for Google and a big reason why Bing will never beat the Google gorilla.
Of course, Google won't beat Facebook in the social arena. Maybe Facebook and Microsoft should just get together and become more cozy than a simple search integration. Just spitballing here.