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June 5, 2009

Bing, Google … and Kayak

I’ve been poking around Microsoft’s Bing. The short answer is that it’s not going to move me off of Google. Of course, my Google inertia is pretty much sleeping-hippopotamus-like at this point. Plus, Bing’s ripping off of Kayak.com (see below) has me pretty cheesed.

Bing does some useful and clever things. But, I think some of the coverage has actually undersold Google. For example, Hiawatha Bray in the Boston Globe, whose writing I like a lot, today opens his review with the clever idea of searching for “google” at Bing and for “bing” at Google. He says Bing gives you a concentrated dosage of stuff about Google, while Google is all over the map with its “bing” results. Well, sure! “Google” is a made-up word with only one dominant meaning, so of course Bing gives you concentrated Google goodness. But “Bing” has lots of meanings, so Google’s right to return a mix of bingy words…with Microsoft Bing as the top result. Now, it is true that, as Hiawatha says, Microsoft gives its “Google” results in convenient tabs about Microsoft the corporate entity as well as listing sub-pages within the google domain, while Google’s top return on “Microsoft” only gives you a set of sub-pages. Microsoft looks more like WolframAlpha in that regard, and that’s a good way to look. But, Google also recently added easier ways to refine and expand searches (by timeline, by WonderWheel), etc., as Hiawatha points out. So, it really depends on what you’re trying to do. As always. (Type MSFT into either and you’ll get similar boxed stock data.)

Hiawatha writes: “Say you want the latest weather or traffic data. Google will tell you where to get it. Bing will just give it to you.” Not exactly. Type “weather” into either site and you get your local weather at the top, in pretty much identical displays. Google’s been doing that for quite a while. Likewise, type an airline and flight number and Google will tell you if it’s on time. But the “traffic” trick doesn’t work for Google. For that you have to go to Google Maps and click on the “Traffic” button (assuming you’re signed in). I wonder how long it’ll take Google to add Bing’s way of responding.

When it comes to shopping, Bing has some very nice touches. Well, primarily it has faceted classification — like NewEgg.com, and also using Endeca‘s engine? — that lets you sort a big list based on multiple criteria, using any of them in any order. Also, Bing has separate ratings by users and experts. On the other hand, Google found many many more copies of “splinter cell double agent” for sale than Bing did.

As many have noted, Bing’s handling of video searches is stellar. Hover over any of the thumbnails and the thumbnail starts to play. But, as someone pointed out — sorry, I lost the link — there seems to be no way to keep users from turning off the adult filter, which means that every school and library now has the greatest multi-screen porn browser ever invented. You can browse for porn videos on Google, of course, but with Bing it’s like watching all of them all at once. Well, maybe this will be like catching a kid smoking and making him smoke an entire pack all at once.

And now we come to Bing’s travel searches. OMG. Bing blatantly ripped off Kayak.com. [Disclosure: I’m old friends with the Kayak folks.] Just take a look at this post. If you’re going to rip off an innovative design, then at least innovate on top of it! Grrrr…

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Later that morning: I just came across a very amusing article in Ars Technica about the new Google Squared app that puts info into tables. It makes clear why some sites (e.g., WolframAlpha) are willing to pay the price to gain the benefits of curation. (via Lee Baker, Berkman summer intern)

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