In a sign of just how seriously Google is taking Microsoft's latest search challenge, Marissa Mayer, Google vice president of search products and user experience, said Microsoft's Bing search engine is a strong competitor even though Google is the search engine market leader at 65 percent.
During a Digg Dialogg with Digg co-founder Kevin Rose aired here July 29, Mayer also admitted that she had done some searches using Bing after Microsoft launched its revamped search engine June 3, and found that some of the features copied what Google has done. Digg Dialoggs are crowdsourced interviews forged from questions Digg users vote for on the popular social tagging Website.
Rose and Mayer recorded the interview, which also included questions about Google's data collection practices and Google Apps, on July 27. That was just two days before Microsoft and Yahoo announced a major search and ad deal in which Bing will power Yahoo's search for the next 10 years.
Asked how she feels about Bing and whether or not Google plans to change its search engine to respond to its rival, Mayer told Rose that Google welcomes the competition, and praised Bing.
"One of the things that happens when you have a strong competitor-and Microsoft, of course, behind Bing, is a very, very strong competitor that needs to be taken seriously-when you have strong competitors it makes everyone work harder and that makes search better, and that's ultimately really better for users," Mayer said. "So, we're really aware of what Bing is doing and looking at that. That said, we've always done well focusing on our users, and that's where our focus has stayed."
Rose then asked Mayer if she had done some searches on Bing to see what fruit Microsoft's efforts had borne.
"I certainly did some searches when the site first came online, but again I think it's important not to over-focus on it," Mayer said, reiterating that Google's goal is to focus on improving the user experience rather than on the competition. However, she added, "Interestingly... there's a lot of feature overlap [between Bing and Google]. Their refinements might be in different places here or there but a lot of technologies are the same."
Mayer did not specify which features Bing seems to have copied. However, users who try both side by side in Web browsers can see that Bing offers autosuggest features similar to Google, and, like Google, offers a tool bar that takes users to images, video, maps, shopping and news.
Despite Mayer's statement that Google is focused on providing more relevant results and faster search instead of worrying about what the competition is doing, that could change in the future considering that Microsoft through its deal with Yahoo has now put itself in position to close the gap between Bing, which holds an 8.4 percent market share, and Google search.
However, the deal is not expected to begin showing results for either Microsoft or Yahoo until early 2010, assuming it passes muster with regulatory bodies. That, as the world saw when the Department of Justice struck down Google's bid to partner with Yahoo, is no slam dunk.
Short of some severe outages in Google's distributed data centers around the world, or a complete brain drain at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., there is no reason to believe Google won't continue to gradually increase its lead in search.