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Rory Cellan-Jones

Microsoft: There's a buzz about Bing

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 31 Jul 09, 16:29 GMT

I've spent some time in recent days with Microsoft executives in the UK, and there's a surprising spring in their step.

Surprising, because these are not great days for the software behemoth, having just suffered its first annual drop in revenues in its history, as its major corporate customers cut back on their spending on products like Windows and Office.

But the executives I met were keen to stress a switch in focus from businesses to consumers. They appear to have woken up to the fact that Vista caused such a wave of disappointment among many users that severe damage was done to the company's image - and they say they're determined to do better.

They pointed to all sorts of stats showing how great an engagement their company had with UK consumers - 21 million Hotmail users; 17 million Messenger users; 16 million visitors to the MSN homepage each month. They enthused about some good reviews and record pre-order figures for Windows 7, due out in late October.

bing search for 'oldest TV in Britain'But what really seemed to have cheered them up was the reception for their new search engine Bing - now doubly important after the deal with Yahoo.

They claimed that it was delighting users and had enjoyed better traffic than expected. A quick call to Nielsen Netratings told me that Bing hadn't actually made much of an impact in its first month - 84% of all searches in the UK in June were done with Google while Bing had just 3.3% of the market. And while I had had a quick go when the new search engine was launched, I've since reverted to Google - a familiar pattern, I suspect.

But I decided to give Bing another shot, comparing it with Google on a few searches which seemed to reflect my interests today.

(1) Ricky Ponting Test Batting Average

Both sites gave Ponting's Wikipedia entry as their first result, but Bing gave more of the entry in its result, showing the Australian batsman's average at 56.31.

No great difference between the two.

(2) Mallorca beaches north coast

Google's top result here was about one particular resort - not very useful. But Bing found a site about the north-east coast, and a feature that allows you to hover over the link, and see some of the text, proving the site was worth a visit.

(3) Oldest TV in Britain

The first result in Google took me immediately to the BBC story last week about Britain's oldest working television. I then clicked on video, and found it surprisingly hard to find a working version of the short video piece we made, though it turned up eventually.

But Bing failed completely on its first page of results, showing all sorts of random links - everything from books about television and politics, to an article about Britian's oldest mother.

Then I clicked on video. It's the video search that is definitely Bing's best feature, allowing you to hover over each clip and see it starting to play before deciding which one you want.

My search threw up a bizarre collection of clips - mostly from Britain's Got Talent - though it eventually tracked down some shots of the oldest telly.

(4) Pound v Euro

Neither Google nor Bing produced instant answers on the current exchange rate. So I went to Wolfram Alpha for the first time in weeks, and found one good use of the computational knowledge engine.

So it's a bit of a mixed picture. Bing certainly has some nice features, but it's by no means clear to me that it does a much better job than Google. And of course it not only has to be better - it has to prove so much more useful that it overcomes the inertia of the 84% of UK internet users who search with Google.

It's always nice to see people happy in their work, but those Microsoft executives still have some work to do in turning their business into the cool, consumer-friendly brand they seem to think it deserves to be.

As you may have guessed from one of my searches, I'm now off on holiday for a couple of weeks. I'm sure there'll be plenty to catch up on when I get back.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Whilst searching for Pound v Euro clearly ought to work, a search for "Pound Euro" on both sites immediately returns the exact information that you're searching for.

  • Comment number 2.

    You made me curious so I searched for "pasty"

    Both Bing! and Google show the wikipedia entry (wikipedia appears to be a common theme here) however I did take great delight that Google had the following result displayed half way doen the page http://www.google.co.uk/search?pasty

  • Comment number 3.

    The reason there are pre-orders for Windows 7 is because it basically doubles in price when it goes on sale! With XP users having to clean install (losing two decades of data), I don't see myself upgrading soon. But, anecdotes aren't data I suppose. I've got no objection to them doing a good job. Just haven't seen any evidence other than a lot of self-congratulatory back-slapping so far.

  • Comment number 4.

    These technology pages are fast becoming a joke, is Bing the most exciting story you could find concerning Microsoft?

    I would have thought that Windows 7 encryption being broken more than 3 months before the release date would have more weight and relevance?

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't think I can ever go back to Microsoft for the evil policies they have introduced, forcing us to sign contracts AFTER handing over oour money. Now all other companies do the same.

    Microsoft, I hope you go bust for that!

  • Comment number 6.

    It would be nice to have an article about MS without the usual vapid nonsense from the peanut gallery.

    Anyway...

    I went to Bing then back to Google then back to Bing. Bing is getting better whereas Goggle seems more unfocused and fuzzy than it was before. I think Bing has a bit to go yet but I like it so far.

  • Comment number 7.

    The syntax for finding the exchange rate in google is: 1 GBP in EUR

    It shows you a dedicated exchange rate screen.

  • Comment number 8.

    @ digital_elysium

    That syntax is all fine and well for literate techy types... But for the vast majority is frankly pish. It's certainly not a plain English search query.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    I love Bing now. I've started to actively demonstrate it around some of the less techy members of the extended family who've been generally frustrated with Google. The fact that you can hover over a search result to bring up a more in depth preview of that page is a huge time saver, and as *everyone* who uses it already waxes lyrical about the video search is fantastic.

    The only thing that's keeping google in my history is accidentally calling it up through muscle memory - but that will change with time.

  • Comment number 11.

    It seems much of a muchness and is little more than a branding war. The mobile device platform is where the real action is. Google is well placed for a lot of this being the standard search.

    Google have also done a lot for small businesses like mine by distributing Google Apps for free, a service that I am now more than prepared to pay for if asked.

  • Comment number 12.

    Microsoft always seem to have this thing about numbers, being able to say "we have X million messenger users" seems to be very important to them, when really its meaningless.

    For example LiveJournal have now created a new chat system which if you want to use it you have to sign up for a Microsoft Messenger account - which means a lot of new signups because they've basically been given no choice.

    So that's a lot more messenger users - but does this mean MS Messenger is better than AIM or Yahoo Chat?

    The shift of Yahoo Search to using Bing is just another number boosting exercise for Microsoft and one that, given the reaction in the tech press, is doomed to failure.

    I tried Bing, I didn't like it, I just didn't like the results I got back from its searches.

  • Comment number 13.

    I for some reason prefer Bing and have now set it to my default search engine.

    Can I just point out that you seem to be rather critical of Vista (even if it is not the main part of the post). I've had no considerable problems with Vista, at least none that weren't easy to fix and fewer problems than XP. I suspect most people don't even know they run Vista and many probably don't have problems, so aren't vocal about them. Vista just seems incumbent because more people are vocal (link to the development of the internet?) about their problems and they are probably really in the vast minority.

  • Comment number 14.

    i found the ``oldest tv in britain`` article by bbc , in bing search engine as with in the first 10 results-

  • Comment number 15.

    I prefer Bing to Google - but GMail is much better than Hotmail so I find myself using Google.

  • Comment number 16.

    Bing is doing something right - I manage several e-commerce websites and the traffic we get from Bing converts far better than Google or Yahoo!

  • Comment number 17.

    GYMarshy that's very interesting that you get a better conversion rate from Bing. Do you by any chance buy adverts on all three? or none? Or just Bing?

  • Comment number 18.

    I started along the same lines as the author, trying to test Bing and Google. However, I came across www.bing-vs-google.com (I have no affiliation to this site). I now use this site as my default search engine. I must say, Bing has surprised on the upside, I though Google would be very hard to beat. Some thoughts so far:
    Im in academia, and Google is much better bringing up academic work.
    If you misspell a word, both will present a did you mean link. However, Google, at least, brings back a best-effort. Bing does not.
    The Show Options link from Google provides more valuable insight into the search results than Bings left pane.
    However, outside of academic work, I have found that the results I was most interested in are clustered to the top more often with Bing. When presented with both Google and Bing results for the same search, I have found I prefer Bings results. A big surprise to me. So credit where credit is due. Well done MS.
    Finally, both engines are not biased towards their own offerings, and the detractors of their competitors. Google will often have a Google Books link somewhere near the top; Bing will not. A search for Microsoft Blog will for Bing, largely return blogs absent of blogs that are not on message. But before, you jump up and say how evil they are. The same is true for Google Blog, Google will only return friendly blog results. Even though this isnt a rigorous exercise, I would say Google use the search results they present to you to push their products much more than Bing does for MS.

  • Comment number 19.

    Typing "4.75 pounds in euros" will provide a conversion in google, and has done for years. As will typing "£4.75 in ". Just typing "Pounds to euros" will give you a rate too. What were you typing that didn't find this?

  • Comment number 20.

    The number of visits to MSN.co.uk is complete twaddle. Basically anyone who logs out of htomail properly is FORCED to visit MSN.co.uk as that is where it redirects you. I know no one who uses the site by choice.

  • Comment number 21.

    @wangi1
    @ digital_elysium
    That syntax is all fine and well for literate techy types... But for the vast majority is frankly pish. It's certainly not a plain English search query.


    Hmmm. "[quantity] [source] in [destination]" hardly requires a Nobel Prize to figure out. And I would say it is actually more "plain English" than Rory's search. You wouldn't usually do a conversion by saying "What is 1 pound v Euro?" - You'd say: "What is 1 pound in Euros?" or "Convert 1 pound to Euros" - both of these plain English searches produce the same dedicated conversion screen in Google.

    It's Rory's search of "4 pound v Euro" which is "frankly pish" and any attempt at a natural English search would have given him tbe right answer.


  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    "16 million visitors to the MSN homepage each month."

    would this have anything to do with the default settings in Internet Explorer which is shipped as part of the near-mandatory Microsoft OS on every PC sold in the UK ?

    I would suggest that a large proportion of these visits is made other than at the will of the user, just as all those that "chose" Vista found there wasn't anything else in the shops.

  • Comment number 24.

    Re "pound v euro" - Im not sure about Bing, but Google certainly lets you find out the current exchange rate - search for "1 pound in euros" or "1 gbp in euro" half the battle with searching is knowing how to invoke the search you actually want.

    Does the BBC technology lot not know about google calculator? Too much time tweeting each other?
    Try "twenty two furlongs per month in miles per fortnight"

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    If people are using Firefox to browse the web

    You can do everything that bing does on google by adding some add ons, which i admit make the browsing experience better

    For example

    Googlepedia - https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2517
    GooglePreview - https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/189

    Theres many more out there

    :)

  • Comment number 28.

    I've used Bing just once. My daughter finally agreed that I could blow away Vista and replace it with XP (Linux was a step too far, but I'm working on that). I got XP installed, and loaded up IE. It defaulted to an MSN page, with Bing as the default engine.

    I typed in 'Firefox download' -- and the rest, as they say, is history. Bye, bye Bing.

  • Comment number 29.

    Being only a casual computer user I find it hard to understand the misguided loyalty many of the commenters on this blog seem to have to Google. Do they think that it's somehow uncool to support Microsoft products? Do they realise the vast ammounts of data which Google is holding about each of them? But I suspect I'm probably the only person here which has not installed Linus Torvald's hobbyist OS and that most of you would follow Google regardless of that they turned out.

    Ground bait lain....whipping my barbless now....

  • Comment number 30.

    @wangi1

    "That syntax is all fine and well for literate techy types... But for the vast majority is frankly pish. It's certainly not a plain English search query."

    Oh sure. Everything should just work for stupid people. No skill or knowledge should be required. Duh!

  • Comment number 31.

    "I've spent some time in recent days with Microsoft executives in the UK". Microsoft, Microsoft, Microsoft... when are you going to spend some time with executives from other software companies to find out what they're doing? You may discover something more innovative.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was banned before... Hopefully it stays up this time.

    Yawwwwn. Yet another pointless article really. Why do I read them ? bored or hope of something interesting.

    Either way the debate about which is better for what info is clearly redundant because anything that is plain fact will obviously be found on something like Wiki or something. Any opinions or references would usually need a few good sources of evidence. Which makes them both useful. Since when has the first link of google ever had good information about on unspecific searches ?

    But at the end of the day Bing, M$/Yahoo are just trying to take some advertising revenue off google. Which given the amount of software Google have either developed or bought is going to be pretty difficult. The search engine bit of it all is not how you entice users into clicking on your ads or good at generating expensive advert space.

    Google are becoming so powerful on internet land that they have the capacity to monopolise internet advertising. If M$ think that they can catch up to google with yahoo and make any kind of advances on they need to be thinking of something new.

  • Comment number 33.

    to be honest i find this bing thing rather rubbish compared to google. Also i feel as if it's microsoft's version of ripping off google. Although it may me slightly better "so people have been saying" i'd rather stick with old that's best.

  • Comment number 34.

 

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