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29 May 2009 07:33
Microsoft has unveiled its latest effort to take on its internet rival Google—a new search engine called Bing.
Described as a “decision engine”, Bing is the latest attempt by the Seattle software giant to gain popularity in the search market and wrestle some momentum back from its Californian adversary.
While the site, Bing.com, is not live yet, it is expected to begin rolling out on Friday, and will be available around the world by next week.
The site’s basic approach may seem familiar: a page featuring single empty box that, when text is entered, provides a list of useful web pages in response. But Microsoft executives hope that the new website, which has been in development for several years, can chip away at the dominance Google exerts on the lucrative web search market.
“Today, search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the web and find information, but they don’t do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find,” said Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft.
“Bing is an important first step forward in our long-term effort to deliver innovations in search that enable people to find information quickly and use the information they’ve found.”
Among the features that he hopes will turn internet users on to Bing is “guided search”, which categorises searches and attempts to get users to useful information speedily.
The system also integrates with a number of other technologies, bringing news and maps straight to searchers, as well as linking in to the company’s Cashback scheme—which effectively pays users a small dividend every time they buy a product through the site.
“The major search engines were developed over a decade ago, and we believe the category is still in its infancy,” said Paul Stoddart, Microsoft’s UK search lead.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Bing can really succeed where a series of earlier revamps and rebranding attempts have failed—despite Microsoft’s eagerness to gain a serious position in the lucrative search engine market.
According to data from ComScore, Google leads the US Search market with 64%, while Yahoo! has 20% and Microsoft trails in third with an 8% share.
Worldwide, the figures are even worse. An analysis from Net Applications suggests that Microsoft currently has just 3% of the global market, trailing Yahoo!‘s 9,6% and Google’s commanding 81%.
After losing the initiative to internet rivals who have built enormous businesses out of web search, Microsoft has spent the past few years retooling in an attempt to push itself forwards.
The company lured a stream of executives away from Yahoo! to run its search business, including its new president of online services, Qi Lu—described by some as a “tech star”. Microsoft also bought in expensive new technologies to try and give it an edge, spending an estimated $100-million buying Powerset, a much-hyped San Francisco startup that promised intelligent web search, but has so far failed to live up to initial expectations.
The company has also tried to market its products in a variety of different ways to convince users to switch away from rival engines.
Bing is the fourth name change for the product in just a few years. It has previously been called MSN Search, Windows Live Search and Live Search—and even the new version went through several different identities before arriving at its current monicker.
But although the site’s name is meant to evoke the sound of getting the right answer, experts were still left asking more questions after the launch.
“If you’re expecting Bing to be a Google-killer, reset your expectations,” said Danny Sullivan, the editor of the SearchEngineLand website. “The most dramatic change, in my view, remains the name itself.”
Some suggest that Microsoft will never be able to make serious inroads without making a radical departure from the system pioneered by Google. Recently, the most interesting potential challengers to the Silicon Valley giant have come from new areas, not simply trying to best Google on its own territory.
Many observers are betting heavily on the future of what they call “real-time search”—the ability to find data instantly, as soon as it is published online, and bring new information and news to the surface before it reaches the mainstream.
Among the websites active in this area are Twitter, the fast-growing social messaging service, and Facebook, which is able to filter information through its 250-million users.
Elsewhere, some newcomers are focusing on bringing more utility to people—and offering up information that does not exist on the web itself.
The British physicist Stephen Wolfram recently took the lid off his own effort in this area, the “computational knowledge engine” Wolfram Alpha.
The site compiles of approved information and offers users answers to their questions, and was warmly received, although it is not yet clear whether it has long-term staying power.
In the end, say some experts, Microsoft may end up turning, once again, to Yahoo, the rival it tried to buy last year in a failed $44-billion takeover bid.
Indeed, Yahoo!‘s chief executive, Carol Bartz, said yesterday that she was not against selling her company’s search business to Microsoft—as long as the price was right.
“If there’s boatloads of money and the right technology involved, we’d do a deal, sure,” she said. “It’s that simple.” - guardian.co.uk
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