Microsoft Bing is being billed as a “decision engine”, and if my experiences of Bing are anything to go by, the only decision I’m making is to go back to Google…
Microsoft say Bing is about making decisions. OK, let’s see what Bing has to offer. Because if Microsoft are telling me they can help me make decisions, they better deliver on that.
Let’s say I want to go Italy, so I type in: “travel to Italy”. If I’m wanting to make decisions around that specific activity, then Bing is skipping a lot of initial steps and making assumptions. I might be a first time traveler. Bing knows at least where I’m from, in this case I’m in England, so that adds some geographic context to the mix. Yes, this context is reflected in the results, but not in how they’re presented, which should be as a series of tasks related to making a decision.
As an example, in Europe, we need a EU (European Union) travel insurance card. It’s not mandatory, but if you’re likely to get attacked by the police who’re trying to steal your cash card and mobile phone, as was the case with me in Tenerife in 2006, then you’ll appreciate good health insurance once you end up in hospital.
I can see a listing for the British Foreign Office (FCO), entitled: “Italy travel advice” so it would seem obvious to me to break this result out and give it special relevance, related to the activity of traveling to Italy.
Also, and obviously, I’d be needing flights, accommodation and transport to and from the airport, as well as exchange services for changing my money into Euros — none of these things are specifically grouped into categories, based around those very specific tasks.
Similarly, if I type in: “how to make an apple pie”, I’d expect some key decision groupings, like health advice, lists of basic ingredients et cetera. Bing scores points for the “Related Searches”, which is positioned in the top left, rather than at the bottom, as Google do, but that’s about it.
I’d also like to see some pre-defined searches / comparisons, like: “Pepsi or Coke”, or: “Barnes & Noble versus Amazon”, with lots of reviews and blog articles from trusted sources. Contentiousness aside, Bing is supposed to be about decisions, right? So far, Bing does absolutely nothing different to Google, or any other search engine.
In fairness to Bing, Google barely does any better in that regard, but Google aren’t calling themselves a decision engine, which to me sounds like Microsoft got caught out with Wolfram’s Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine”, and thought they’d tack on a similar moniker, in some feeble attempt to differentiate themselves from Google et al. It didn’t work because Bing is definitely not Google and it is in no way Alpha.
The way I see it, when Alpha launched, the genie was let out of the bottle. Even though Alpha is still a work in progress and lacks computation width, people can see the potential and are suitably impressed by what they see. Bing on the other hand offers nothing even remotely like Alpha.
So what Microsoft are left with is a product that’s neither one nor t’other, falling between two stools, and schools of thought. Over on The Register, Gavin Clarke barely conceals is dislike of Bing:
“Having finally settled on a name — Bing — Microsoft’s marketing drones probably believe they’ve come up with a clever wheeze against Google by adopting that old trick of redefining the market and thereby defining the competition out of that market. Bing is, therefore, not a search engine, it’s a ‘decision engine’.”
And who can blame him?
So what is Bing? Well, it’s MSN / Live re-branded. And will Bing change your search habits? Unless you’ve just been born a full-grown adult on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, no.
The thing is, if Microsoft had just gone down the same old route as all their other desperate re-branding exercises, then no-one would really care. But the problem is, there’s so much money in search, they just can’t afford to concede to Google. So they roll out Bing, touting it as one thing when it’s quite clear it’s not.
I’ll leave it to Joely to sum up the sentiment surrounding Bing:
“Not only does [Bing] fail to deliver on its promise as a ‘decision engine’ (which of course is how we fall out of love with brands) it fails to do what MSN need it to do; offer enough value to users to break the Google habit Australia possesses. Let’s face it, we no longer search for information, we Google it.”
Of course, you could argue that Bing is still firmly in beta mode and all of these issues could be resolved. Personally, I doubt that. And, by releasing Bing early, in a form that’s clearly not fit for human consumption, people like Joely & I will be resolutely underwhelmed and reluctant to go back and try again.
Given a choice, what if Microsoft had directed their marketing budget into Bing’s development budget, instead of wasting all of their spend on the usual avalanche of irrelevant, misleading and ambiguous sponsored research and marketing drivel they seem so keen on. What might Bing have really turned into?
Hmm, decisions, decisions…