Alex wrote an interesting blog post about Bing
, Microsoft's new search engine, last week. The gist of it was that Google is so successful that competing against it with a similar product isn't going to work - and as a result, his idea was that searching social sites such as Facebook and Twitter is probably the biggest threat to Google.
I feel that’s slightly missing the point. Bing, after all, is the default search engine for Internet Explorer, which is the default browser of the interweb, therefore as long as Bing just works and is good enough (in the same way that Google is now) no-one will see a need to switch. Far from Microsoft needing to up its game to beat the services of Google, it’s Google that needs to provide a compelling reason to switch the search engine of IE’s search bar from Bing to Google.
The problem is similar to that of Firefox vs IE. Most of us techies would agree that Firefox (or indeed, Chrome, Opera or any IE alternative) is superior to IE and so we switch. However, it was big news when the blatantly inferior IE dropped below 70 per cent market share
If we assume (and yes, this is a guess) that 20 per cent of those IE users are technically competent and are forced to use IE for various reasons (e.g. because their workplace won’t let them install additional software), that means that over 50 per cent of all internet users aren’t especially IT-literate to be bothered about changing their browser. In fact, as Google found when its operatives took to the streets of New York, most people don't know what a browser is
It's a pretty safe bet that these people will probably use IE at its default settings, so I’d guess that half the world will be using Bing fairly soon. I predict that Google is going to see a huge drop-off in search traffic flowing through its servers over the next six months.
Search might not be Google’s only source of income
any more, but it makes a large contribution to the company’s bottom line, so a rapid and sever decline in search traffic would likely hit the company hard. And with less cash, it’ll have fewer resources and marketing muscle to develop and promote reasons to switch from the default web browser’s default search engine.
So, as long as Bing is roughly as good a search engine as Google, it’ll prevail. The onus is therefore not on Microsoft to give Bing better features than Google, but on Google to give compelling reasons to switch from Bing.
The problem is entirely of Google's making, too. As it's always said (rather too smugly
, I feel), it hasn't really developed its search much at all*. All Microsoft really has to do is roughly match that level of service.
However, Microsoft is being more ambitious, as you can see from comparing the missions of Bing and Google: "Bing helps you make sense of your search results by organising them into helpful categories. It also broadens your search by offering related search terms that increase your chances of finding just what you’re looking for.
" Bing sounds much more in keeping with the times than Google's mission "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Of course, if Bing does prove to be sub-standard, tech enthusiasts like you and I will stick with Google, and its strong name and awareness will give Google a period of grace to fight back at Bing over the next couple of years.
However, I still maintain that because Bing is the default search engine of the default browser, it only has to be adequate to beat Google – it’s Google that needs to up its game to provide a compelling reason to switch from Bing (or else, diversify its revenue sources). And if Google does suffer a sharp and deep hit to its profit due to Bing, we could see it shrink very rapidly as it refocuses on its core search business and technology. This would be bad.
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*Instead of developing its core business, and the reason why Google became a house-hold name, the company has spent time developing all kinds of things
, from trivial irrelevancies to useful online applications to amazing uses of information and technology.