It’s been a long time since a new search engine has been introduced to the market which rivals the likes of Google. Enter Bing, Microsoft’s answer to the Google juggernaut and the replacement for their mediocre “Live” search. Bing has become the subject of much news, discussion, and conjecture about the future of the search engine landscape. Here I’ll take an unbiased look at Bing’s positives and negatives in direct comparison with Google, and come to some informal conclusions. The goal is to find which search engine is better, and whether or not Bing has a real chance of overtaking Google any time in the future.
So first of all, what’s the big deal about Bing? In the tech world, people are excited about Bing because it is supposedly the internet’s first “semantic search” engine. I discussed the idea of semantic search a little bit in my post on Web 3.0. The idea of semantic search is that it’s supposed to organize the internet algorithmically rather than heuristically, allowing computers to browse topics more efficiently, giving you more accurate search results. I’m not sure what technology is actually running the back-end of Bing, but whether or not it’s true semantic search, it’s not clear on the front-end and is therefore mostly irrelevant. The bottom line is, if you’re looking for a technological revolution in your search engine, Bing is not it. I would say the closest thing to a semantic search engine that is currently available is Wolfram|Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine” from the guys who created Mathematica. Nonetheless, while Wolfram Alpha is cool to play around with, it’s a huge project with mostly hand-coded results and at the moment is little more than an advanced internet encyclopedia. Still, it’s a step towards making the internet’s knowledge computable, which is an admirable goal.
So back to Bing. If it’s not a technological leap beyond Google, what makes it worth using? The most immediately obvious advantage of Bing is its visual appearance. Google is known for taking a very minimalist approach visually, whereas Bing is definitely more stylistically appealing. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a side-by-side search comparison.
First let’s pretend we’re booking a vacation. For our flight, I’ll search “flight to NY”.
From Google we see the results you’d probably expect: a list of different sites offering plenty of information about flights to NY, albeit the information is in all different places. Obviously it’s going to take me some digging to find the best deals.
Already it’s pretty clear that Bing wins in the aesthetics department. But what about functionality? Well we can see that the first link is already giving me some comparative flight fares. If I click that link I get this page:
This is where Microsoft begins to show its clout. Because Microsoft owns so many companies in so many different places, users get the advantages of those different services integrated into their search. This page comes from a Microsoft owned company called Farecast, and with this technology, I get to see compared prices for flights from different areas, whether the prices are currently rising or falling, and when the best times to fly are. This is all on one page in a visually pleasing format. Bing has similarly convenient services for other travel-related searches, and with a little clicking around, you can work out the best deal for your flights and hotels remarkably easily.
Let’s look at some more comparative results. Say I’m interested in seeing Pixar’s movie “Up”. The search term “Up” is extremely vague, so it should yield some interesting results.
Once again, Google covers the basics very well. It uses its memory of my location to find showtimes near me. After that we have the movie’s official site, the imdb page, and then it starts to stray into some unrelated videos. Nonetheless I do pretty much have access to anything I might be looking for in relation to the movie Up. Now let’s try Bing.
After viewing the Bing results, we have an interesting comparison on our hands. While Bing is more visually appealing just because of the basic layout of Bing, Google gives us more accurate and practical results. Both of them give location-based showtimes as the top link, but beyond that Bing gets a little off-topic. Ultimately I think even though Bing has an immediate edge given its aesthetic superiority, Google wins in a utilitarian sense.
For a final comparison we’ll take a look at the two search engines capabilities when it comes to viewing media. Most people are familiar with Google’s image and video options in search, but how do they stack up next to Bing’s? For this example I’m going to use the search term “guitar” in both Bing and Google, and then see what their image and video searches do with it.
Google image results:
Bing image results:
I honestly did not expect an appreciable difference when it came to image results, but in fact there is. The difference is really in the details here. While Google just gives you a block of guitar images and related search options, Bing comes at you with a plethora of options with which you can truly refine your search. Bing allows you to sort the images by size, layout, color, style, and more. You can change the size of the images that appear in the grid. This was one of those moments where I went, “Why doesn’t Google do all this?” Then I realized that if you click on the tiny “more options” button in Google, it does. Though it doesn’t look as good, Google does give you the same functionality, if you have a good eye. It nonetheless worries me that as a frequent Google user, I had no idea these options existed until doing this research. That leads me to believe that most people searching through Google have no idea these options exist. Basically in this case Bing doesn’t really have more functionality than Google does but it’s used smart visual elements to make the functionality which is hidden in Google very visible to users. Now let’s do the same comparison, but with video.
Google video results:
Bing video results:
For this comparison I left Google’s “more options” tab out for your viewing pleasure. You can see that with that tab available, the searches become pretty much identical. However my qualm about accessibility remains. If you don’t already know about the “more options” button, you’re not likely to find it, or to click it. Beyond that issue, Google does give more accurate results in my opinion. I’m guessing they use all the data collected from Youtube to find which videos people are more likely to be looking for. Still, consistent with the rest of my reseach, Bing is more aesthetically clean and pleasing.
It’s pretty easy to come to a few basic conclusions here. Google still seems to have better insides, with results generally being more intelligent and accurate across the board. Conversely, Bing has better design and is therefore more visually appealing in pretty much every considerable category. Should you use Bing over Google? It depends what you value in your search engine. Honestly, I probably won’t and I’m not sure I can tell you why. Google has instilled a certain trust in its user-base (i.e. almost everyone who uses the internet) which Bing has yet to achieve. So that pretty much answers the next question, will Bing overtake Google? I don’t think so, but it wouldn’t be wise to rule anything out. If there’s one company in the world which would have a chance at doing so, it’s Microsoft. Also, Microsoft says they plan on slowly rolling out improvements and new features for Bing in the future, similar to Google’s development strategy. So we’ll see what happens. For now I’m still Googling, and I don’t see Bing becoming a new verb anytime soon.