The desktop search engine industry has been awfully quiet lately. Just looking at the search volume in Google Trends reveals that there’s been little positive change in the past 12 months (see chart below). But early this week, everything suddenly changed as the two search engine giants got into a fight over Google calling out Bing for copying their search results. In summary, Google baited Bing by creating illogical search results for “synthetic” queries (aka nonsense terms). Google recruited 20 engineers with Suggested Sites in Internet Explorer 8 and had them search for these fake term in Google until the results showed up in Bing (about 2 weeks!). The next day Microsoft fired back at Google explaining that the algorithm to prioritize search results uses multiple “signals” along with collective intelligence to determine search quality and in this case Google simply exposed this flaw. In essence, the flaw suggests that Microsoft considers Google to be the authoritative source whenever the result set is limited.
While there is no denying that Bing autogenerated the same results as Google, there are two important lessons that technologists and marketers should learn from this fight:
There’s rarely a day that goes by where Microsoft and Google don’t challenge each other. They battle to control every aspect of our digital world, including email (hotmail vs. gmail), the browser (IE vs. Chrome), the desktop (Microsoft Office vs. Google Docs) and of course search (Microsoft Bing vs. Google Search). While Google has continued to gain ground on Microsoft, Yahoo and others, a new search competitor, albeit small, called Twitter has emerged.
Why Twitter? Well, besides serving as social networking tool for celebrities, Twitter also provides a stream of breaking news and real time events. For example, if I am looking to learn about the latest developments in SharePoint, I avoid the search engines because the news that I’ll read there will be at least 24 hours old. Instead, I search for tweets with SharePoint as a word or hashtag in Twitter. The search results present me with a quick list of the latest developments.
Both Microsoft and Google both recognize this deficiency but only Microsoft has first responded to this need. They beat Google to the punch with the recent announcement that tweets from Twitter will now be indexed and served up alongside Bing results (source). The meshing of Bing and Twitter is good for both tools/companies:
- Search engines have always had search for content on their own. They leveraged the spiders to crawl and index new content or asked website owners to submit XML sitemaps to uncover more content and links. But Twitter serves as a new source of link that can provider links to the freshest content around.
- Developers can create applications using the Twitter API so the idea of serving ads alongside tweets was a bit complex. By offering the data to search engines, Twitter has identified a revenue stream without having to depend on an ad-based revenue model.
- Data that Twitter collects (and I’ve got to imagine that they are collecting a ton of data) is only available for a limited amount of time (typically 7 – 14 days). Many developers have used this limitation to develop an app that persists the data for an extended period of time. But if Bing or Google starts storing that data, Developers could potentially turn to these search engines to mine Twitter data.
Microsoft seems to be trying to distinguish Bing as a leader in search engines. Bing has challenged Google on other fronts, including image search capabilities, where you see an endless set of results, and video search capabilities, where you can play a video without having to leave the results. With tweets alongside search results, Microsoft may be able to take more market share from Google. While a market share loss of may not seem to be much when Google still has a dominant position, it does translate to a greater loss when one considers that 97% of Google’s revenue is dependent on search.
NOTE: For now, you can search within the latest tweets using the new Bing Twitter engine (source).
I was meeting this week with one of my co-workers and we found that we needed to look at a web page. So, she opened Internet Explorer browser and started to enter an address but I quickly stopped her because I saw this:
If you don’t believe me, you should try the modified Yahoo Home page URL for yourself. It seems interesting because it reminds of another, slighly more popular search engine called Google:
If you look closely, you will notice the following similarities:
- Both use a minimalistic page design
- Both have links to Web, Images, and Videos; the remaining links are differnet
- Both embed their logo which serves as the primary way to identify which search engine you are using
This just strengthens my belief that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, considering the comScore revealed this week that Google had a 60% share of worldwide searches in August 2007 in comparison to Yahoo’s 14% share — that is a 4 fold greater share!
Yahoo definitely has some catching up to do regardless of how it looks.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The modified Yahoo home page is also available at www.search.yahoo.com. Additionally, MSN has joined the party. (Thank you to Webdosfera.com for pointing this out).