“Why Bing?” That is the question Qi Lu asks his lieutenants whenever they think of new efforts to enhance Microsoft’s answer to Google. Bing, in its third year, is struggling to compete, having reported $2.6 billion losses in its last fiscal year. Mr. Lu’s existential question may be more important than ever.
Microsoft’s effort to make Bing a better search engine than Google is led by Mr. Lu, president of Microsoft’s online services division and a former Yahoo executive. A bespectacled, intense, wiry man, he has a huge task cut out for him as Google is still dominating search.
According to the NYTimes, one of the ways Microsoft is trying to differentiate Google is through its partnership with Facebook, which Microsoft owns a small stake. Facebook, like Microsoft, is another Google adversary. Google of course competes against Facebook with its own social network, Google Plus. Microsoft, besides Bing, competes with Google though productivity applications. So having a common enemy makes good friends.
With Facebook, Microsoft is trying to integrate their social data into its search results. For example, if you’re already logged onto Facebook and search for “best hotels in Maui,” you will get results with pictures of friends who indicated previous interest for Maui before on Facebook, whether by listing it as their hometown, liking the island, or any other indication of interest on Maui, such as posting vacation photos. The results will allow searchers to post questions about favorite hotels to their Facebook friends. Bing will also incorporate other public social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora for people it deems to be “influential” on a particular search topic. “This is a fundamentally different way to look at search,” said Mr. Lu.
Google not to be outdone, have begun to integrate data from its social network into its search results, an initiative it calls “search, plus your world.”
Microsoft’s desire to compete is mainly based on the fact that Google is still king of search. According to comScore, Bing’s market share rose to 15.3 percent of searches in March, up from 13.9 percent in the same month a year earlier. But the gains appeared to come at the expense of Yahoo, which uses Bing for its search results. According to comScore, Google accounted for 66.4 percent of searches in the United States in March.
Despite Microsoft’s valiant effort to make Bing superior, there is not much difference in the quality of the two search engines. Without a clear advantage over Google, it will be hard pressed for users to switch one product to another. “It’s like saying, Here’s another person who could be a great best friend for you,” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land, a website devoted to Internet search. “Why don’t you become best friends with them?” And there lies the problem. Most people would stick to their current best friend rather than risk trying out on a new one.
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