Bing, Microsoft’s latest effort to beat Google (Google reviews) at what it does best - search - is now live for everyone. It’s bearing the ubiquitous “beta” tag, and contrary to what many expected from Microsoft, the search is decent. But it’s also strangely familiar. Is it decent enough to compete with Google? Read on.
Anxious to see what Microsoft has in store for us, I’ve fired up a couple of usual examples: “Mashable (Mashable reviews)“, “Stan Schroeder” (the standard vanity searches), “MSI megabook 677” (some random piece of hardware), “Star Trek” (new movie, old series, let’s see which will get prioritized) etc.
The results were solid, too good, perhaps, for a very new search engine, but also oddly familiar. And then it dawned on me: it’s Live.com. The results for any query are exactly the same as on Live.com. And we’re not talking about the first couple of results; we’re talking about all results.
(*note: I was lucky to be able to try it out, because 20 minutes after I started writing this article, Live.com started redirecting to Bing.com. Of course, it’s now the same search engine.)
So, what does Bing do differently? It puts related search on the left side of the screen, instead of the right. It also gives you short preview of the contents of search results as you mouse over them, and autoplays videos. Nice. But there’s no trace of better organization of search results that we were promised, or anything really interesting here. Videos, images? Also pretty much the same as on Live.com. Shopping? Merely a redirect to www.ciao.co.uk.
*edit: the above stands for the UK version of Bing. Manually setting the location to various places in the world, i.e. switching from UK to US changes Bing significantly. There’s at least three very different versions of Bing right now, and depending on where you are, your Bing experience will be very different. It’s a very weird decision from Microsoft, bound to cause a lot of confusion, but hey: it’s the Microsoft way.
So, let’s test the US version. The Shopping is now Bing’s own, instead of a redirect to Ciao, while video and image search is very similar in both versions. The core of the search engine, from what I can see, is still Live.com, but the search results for some queries are indeed organized topically; for example, for “Star Trek” the results will be divided into general results, Star Trek cast, Star Trek Wallpapers, Theme Song, DVD, Episodes, and so forth. It doesn’t always work; for “Wolverine,” I just get the standard list of results; oddly enough, they’re worse on the US version (if you’re looking for the movie, of course) than on the UK version, which brings more results relevant to Wolverine the movie. For the same query (”Wolverine“), Google blows both out of the water.
How useful are Bing’s search subcategories, which are arguably its most important feature? Depends. If you’re used to entering precise queries, such as “Starbucks menu”, you’ll never see them. If you prefer entering a broader query “Starbucks” and then choosing from subcategories such as Recipes, Menu, Franchise, Nutrition and Coupons, Bing will work great. However, these subcategories aren’t all that different from ye olde search suggestions, and although they’re often helpful, I doubt they will revolutionize search.
Most importantly, Bing is currently still changing. I’d like to hear your experiences and thoughts about Bing, but right now, it seems like a half-way transition from Live.com to something new, and it’s very hard to assess its true value until the various versions scattered around the world are consolidated into one.more...