Friday, 11 February 2011

Google and Bing - handbags at dawn / Matthew Oxley, head of search, Gravytrain

As a marketer, there’s no way you could have possibly avoided hearing about the recent Bing "copying" search results from Google saga. Regardless of how much attention this specific issue is getting, there's more at stake than just a few long tail search results. Indeed, search quality as a whole is still a minor issue in comparison to the apparent significance of this.

Google have gone to a huge amount of effort to expose Bing – and, in a rather bizarre move, have registered which now points towards Google's Jobs page. Google will certainly feel they've scored some good points over Microsoft with this episode and I don’t doubt that they’ll be pleased with their Bing sting operation.  However, I can’t help but think if exposing Microsoft really was the best idea for Google in this instance?

I'm guessing there were some Bing engineers who might have thought copying Google was an extremely clever idea. Also, some people in management probably thought this was an ingenious way of taking advantage of Google's superior search algorithm to cover up the inefficiencies of their own. I don't think, however, that the top folks at Microsoft - those focused on the big picture - would think this quite so clever.

Taking advantage of the fact that many people still have Internet Explorer installed by default to allegedly copy their rival is naughty.  Also, using it in this way is the polar opposite to ‘real’ innovation. The problem isn’t that Bing got caught out but more that it allows Microsoft to avoid having to face up to the bigger issue.

Two technology giants

Microsoft and Google are two technology giants locked into a war on many fronts.  Search, operating systems and applications are all key battlegrounds for both parties, making the combined stakes monumental.

The sad truth for Microsoft is that, certainly in the field of search, they are an inferior company to their Californian rivals. Many senior Microsoft execs might well be honest enough to admit that Google’s advantages go beyond having a search proposition – they have an impressive culture where talent and innovation seem to thrive. The harsh reality for Microsoft is that they need to close this gap and close it fast.

The search engine business is a multi-billion dollar industry, so it’s no surprise that Bing would want to improve the quality of their search results in any way possible.  However, if Microsoft fail to innovate here, they’ll probably fail to innovate elsewhere – a problem which would overshadow any minor benefit they might be capturing from this.

Right now, it would appear that Microsoft is choosing to hide rather than face their rival head-on. Indeed, the better choice for Google on discovering this might well have been to quietly chuckle and let them continue.

Matthew Oxley, head of search, Gravytrain

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