I am Trying to Like You Bing, Honest, But You Don't Make it Easy!

So, after hearing some good things about Bing, which to be honest usually started with "Well, it is better than live...", I decided to give it a try. I would love to have a competing search engine and so with this expectation in mind, I switched my Google Button to a Bing Button and hoped for the best.

I figured changing the buttons would be the easiest way, as I almost instinctively hit the Google link in my status bar whenever I have some extremely important question that I must know right away, such as how many stones are in a pound or some other essential piece of data.

A Little Background

I can't really remember the last time I used a search engine for the majority of search for the way I do Google. However, this isn't because it was my first surf engine, as I remember browsing the CompuServe message boards, back when Internet Service to me was offered on disks that were good for so many hours and then you had to get another disc, which fortunately someone kept sending me.

So, the dominance of Google as my search of choice is not one that has been particularly sheltered. It is just that on a whole, their results are much more relevant, and "natural" rankings are not 100% for sale like other search engines( yes Yahoo I am looking at you! ).

My purpose in describing this switch is to hopefully portray how big of a jump this is for me, but that it is not a jump I do not want to take. Further, I want Bing to be awesome, I want it to share a little bit of my search share. However, even just my first few searches turned up a few things that leave me shaking my head.

The Official Website Block

One of the first search queries was msn. I figured viewing something they had a direct interest in would provide a basic metric for their impartiality. Of course, this hope was dashed when I saw the link at right that only showed one result and had all the other results hid by a button labeled "Search for other results containing msn."

It would only be later that I discovered this was an honor not only reserved for MSN, but a number of other sites, such as CNN, the New York Times, and other major networks.

For sites that don't quite make the cut, keywords such as cnet, miscrosoft, and google, the "Official Site Listing is included at the top of the rest of the natural results.

Why this is Worrisome

While I understand this logic, as many people do really only want to goto msn when they type msn, and even I sometimes am known to use the search bar to goto a URL, I can't help but feel like this is a manipulation of the results.

Simply having the official listing at the top or even using the semi-official site listing that is reserved for sites like microsoft.com would be sufficient, but to effectively remove the results feels dishonest and like it has implications for effectively limiting speech.

Reminiscent of Live Search Results

This is in large part due to my knowledge of how the old Live Search used to work. For many keywords, there would be a little link on the button of the page, which said something of the effect of click hear to see ONLY the results you searched for.

This was indicated by doing a live search with the + operator. So a search only for Microsoft and not the extra sites deemed related by MSN, would have to be "+microsoft" and not just "microsoft."

I always found this to asinine, as if I had wanted to include other results, I would have added more keywords. So, the official listing seems an awful lot like simply another flavor of this, which to be fair Google also does in some fashions.

Shopping, Lodging, and Other Adverts

One of the other things that struck me right away about Bing was the different sections that the search results get returned in. For example, if you search for "Microsoft," there is the official listing, 3 other microsoft.com pages, and a wikipedia listing.

Under the natural results, there are sections for "Microsoft Products," "Microsoft Online Services," "Microsoft Investor Relations," "Microsoft Company History," "Microsoft Jobs," and Learn more about Microsoft. The same is true of a search for Google, or many other companies.

Similarly, if you search for a city, a similar set of results is returned, which is divided into sections for things like hotels, tourism, and schools.

To compound this problem, you have to scroll down the entire page, past all the shopping and history results, to click to the next button.

As an aside, when I first saw this I turned on the Virtual Machine to check it in IE7, just to make sure it wasn't a Linux thing, where somehow the menus just had been accidentally expanded. Other than seeing all the ads, the results were the same in IE7, as seen at right.

I think the little arrow that you show on the right, which expands to show "More on this Page" is a better direction for you to take and could accomplish many of the same goals. Other wise, it really feels like Microsoft is abusing their power and cluttering my search results, as even though Google includes 3 Shopping results with some terms, they do it in a much less intrusive fashion.

Promoting From Within

Usually, these results are fairly obvious, marked by big orange text, but when advertising some of their own services, Microsoft gets a little creative.

For example, their News Service, looks very similar to the natural results and is in blue, not orange. The text is the same size as the natural results, and the only thing that differentiates their news listings from a regular result, is that there is no description and no little green url under it.

This is of particular interest, as Microsoft is currently trying to disrupt Google News, by courting the subscription based news model. Following the lead of Robert Murdoch, who owns News Corp, Microsoft is paying News Corp to use Bing and not use Google. Murdoch has stated, in what can only be descirbed as a direct reflection of his understanding of technology, that Google is stealing news and that he wants his sites removed from Google's Index.

Of course, perhaps Microsoft can't be faulted in this, as they feel they must fight Google wherever they can, even if it isn't in the best interest of their users. Further, by forcing a change to paid news, MSN could see a big profit, but it is hard not to question their motivation, given the context of this fight, and feel confident they aren't abusing their influence elsewhere.

Long Tail is More Natural

It is only when you do a search for something like "daffy duck" or a more long tail keyword, that you end up with a more natural looking set of results.

Now, again, I understand that this is a for profit business and I understand that a number of the people who search for this and use MSN might actually want this, but at the same time it ends up being a rather disingenuous abuse of power, reminiscent of Yahoo's Paid Search Inclusion.

The matter becomes even graver when you consider that it is likely a majority of those using Bing Search, have never experienced a more results driven service, nor are they aware of how online advertising really works.

Natural Results

When searching for more long tail words and phrases, Bing starts to act more like a search engine, but even still there are times when you end up seeing things that are not as recent or seem to be weighted heavily based on their keywords. Given this, it is hard not to think that Bing might be too heavily reliant upon the Live Algorithm, which was notoriously easy to game. There have also been a few times where I have gotten fed up with not finding what I was looking for and cheated, going back to Google.

Fortunately, the "Site:" operator works in Bing the same way it does in Google, so I assume there are other "easter eggs" that let you actually have a little more control over the natural results.

Not Giving Up

With that said, I don't think only a days use is enough to truly evaluate your merit Bing, and you do have some good features, such as your image search, even though it only works with Javascript enabled.

So, I am not giving up on you, but I must say, it isn't easy.

Day One, the Struggle Begins...

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