Archive for June, 2009

Bing! Why does my search go Bing?

June 11, 2009

Loyal readers will know that I’ve said that new search engines make for easy posts for lazy bloggers.  Somebody at Microsoft must like me (or think that I’m lazy), as MSFT has recently released its new search engine, Bing.

I tried Bing out on my new favorite search, for statistical consulting rates.  It came up with a number of examples of groups offering statistical consulting and their rates, but missed out on a survey of statistical consulting rates from the American Statistical Association that Google found.  So Google still has the advantage here, but Bing does do better than cuil, if for no other reason than I can actually say the name.

Let’s take a step back.  Microsoft has a lot of very smart people.  (It also lays off a lot of them, but that’s another story).  If it really wants to, it can and will produce a search engine as good as Google’s.  But will it be worth it?

The basic idea of search is to find the best possible page on the web in response to your query.  The problem is that often there is nothing particularly relevant on the Web.  In this case, there are really two options – try to create something algorithmically from available data, or get someone else to put something on the Web for you.  The first option is hard, and was what Wolfram Alpha tried and failed at.  The second is remarkably easy, as Wikipedia, Yelp, boardgamegeek and the imdb show.  It turns out that there are lots of people who like the look of their own typing, and will do it for free.

Now, if your favorite search engine often returns Wikipedia or Yelp as its first and best link, who’s really adding value?  Who (if anyone) should advertisers pay?  Interesting questions, but ones that Larry and Sergey would probably rather you not ask.  Internet search has greatly expanded people’s access to information, just as the automobile greatly expanded their access to places.  But could Google end up as the next GM?

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