A Believer in Microsoft Bing

May 31, 2009

Shareholders in Microsoft may hold a parade for Larry Magid. He wrote “Don’t Count Microsoft Out in Search” for the San Jose (oops Silicon Valley) Mercury News. You can find the story here. Mr. Magid sees Bing as a potential contender in the Web search wars.

The premise of the story is that Microsoft’s most recent weapon in the battle for Web search eyeballs has a fighting chance against Googzilla. So, in the battle between Bing and the Google, Mr. Magid is urging odds makers to keep Microsoft in the game.

Mr. Magid reported:

It would be a gross exaggeration to call Bing a Google killer, but that’s OK. Google doesn’t have to die for Microsoft to succeed in search. Besides, Ballmer made it very clear that he doesn’t expect Bing to overtake Google in the foreseeable future. Microsoft, if anything, is persistent. It took three tries before Microsoft Word was worthy of becoming the dominant word processing program, and it wasn’t until version 3.0 that Windows began to get serious traction. To differentiate itself from Google, Bing is not only visually more attractive, it’s also more informative. Functioning as what Microsoft is calling a “decision engine,” rather than simply linking you to sites, Bing searches often end with information directly from Bing. For example, if you type in the name of a city you get local weather, hotel prices and other information without having to click anywhere. And, depending on the content licensing rules of sites that Bing draws from, it can sometimes display content directly — from Wikipedia for example — without the user having to click through. It even has a built-in shopping engine that, when you search for a product, shows you images, offerings from multiple merchants as well as product information, customer reviews and expert reviews.

My view is that a company with a seven to eight percent market share is what we in Kentucky would call a long shot. Sure, Derby winners come from the back of the pack to win the Run for the Roses. But in the Web search sector, there are some non-horse feathers facts with which to deal:

  1. Microsoft has approached search as a series of vertical content slices. There’s not much evidence that vertical search slices can narrow the Googzilla sized gap between Google’s market share and Microsoft’s market share in Web search. It’s not even clear if people will navigate to a vertical search system directly. My research indicates that people navigate to Google and type in the name of the service or function they want. Then Google spits out the url. Google is the finder; Bing may be the site receiving referrals from the Google. A bit of tweaking could change this quickly, might it not?
  2. Microsoft, Yahoo, and other firms have tried to get traction in Web search. What’s happened is a heck of a lot of repositioning. Web search companies jump into SEO or seek refuge in the enterprise market, indexing services for publishers, or brand themselves as business intelligence vendors. So far, that’s worked for some companies, but for many Web search firms, the outfits are road kill on the information superhighway. Google has been nuking these deer and possum with semi-truck efficiency.
  3. Google, in a lousy economy, has been * extending * its lead in the Web search sector. It will take more than $100 million in advertising to narrow the gap between user behavior and Bing adoption. What may happen is that Bing like the Microsoft butterfly will morph into some other creature. Microsoft’s best bet for crippling Google may be rain dance to bring thunderstorms to three amigos who run Google. A management blow up would create some new opportunities for Web search competitors.

Bing Kumo is a long shot in the Web search Derby. Just my opinion.

Stephen Arnold, June 2, 2009


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