The first and foremost product to evaluate is of course Google Search. I started using Google almost as soon as it was made available to the public. Yahoo! was the king at the time, and Alta Vista was decent, but Google was simple, deep and fast. Google’s results were always better and it was able to find obscure stuff which Yahoo! was somehow unable to find. Coincidentally, at that time, I was working as a database developer. I often had to look for help on certain issues, and Google, with their beautiful usenet groups layout and search, was fantastic.
Then, Bing happened. Originally it was thought to be just a re-branding of MSN Search or Live Search, but it started innovating very rapidly. The Bing team realized they could not compete solely on the index size, so they quickly made the search competition a usability game. Compared to Google’s plain white screen, Bing had a beautiful home image. Compared to the basic set of links as part of search results, Bing started becoming verticalso it could display search results based on the type of search (hence, the justification for being a decision enginecompared to a search engine). Some examples where Bing is decidedly different:
- Travel: Bing incorporated farecastingto predict if it is a good time to book or if it may be better to wait for a few days to actually purchase. Bing also created Destination Pageswhich provide an excellent overview of the various popular travel destinations, all in one page. They incorporated reservations as a feature, so you could search, determine if it is a good time to purchase and make the booking all within one interface/action. Bing became much more than just search.
- Visual Search: Bing created Visual Search which allowed users to get beautifully laid out visual results for common search terms like NFL players, and applied the same interface for shopping for gadgets like laptops, cameras, etc. The items covered by Visual Search has expanded rapidly and even includes things like iPhone and iPad apps!
- Entertainment: Another example of a verticalcreated by Bing is Bing Entertainment which provided details for TV shows, music and movies including the ability to view air times (or show times), lyrics and make reservations, all from one place within Bing. Just like Travel, Bing Entertainment would become a one-stop shop for all actions you are most likely to take when you start searching for, say a movie.
- Video search: Video search is cool because it allows you to preview the video by just hovering the mouse over the search result video thumbnail. This user experience is in line with the philosophy that you don’t need to go to multiple sites if you are trying to make decisions. Bing itself would let you do a lot of the work so you can, you know, make decisions quickly.
- Other innovations: I could list other innovations individually and go on and on, but suffice to say that Weather, Local, Events, Social (which looks at Facebook public posts and twitter as well) are only a few parts of Bing which seem to have out-innovated Google. To say that Google has been out-innovated in searchis saying something and was hard to believe just a couple of years back.
- Spam: Here is one of the biggest reasons to reconsider Google Search. Since Google is established as the #1 source for traffic for websites, and since a lot of companies rely on Google ads (via AdSense) for generating revenue, there is a huge incentive to get the website content to be such that the site shows in the top results for some targeted keywords (and hence, the huge industry for Search Engine Optimization, or SEO). As a result, for a lot of common search terms, a lot of the results on Google are essentially the equivalent of email spam worthless results which clutter the page making it difficult to identify real, good results. Bing also suffers from this problem, but since it is the smaller player today, not many companies are targeting Bing, so Bing’s results are mostly spam-free. Google has recently rolled out their low quality content handlingalgorithm update called Panda but as long as there is money to be made, people are going to find ways to get around algorithm updates.
Bing Fare Predictor
Bing Travel Destination Page
I switched about a year or so ago, and I have never looked back. I have almost never missed Google and I actively recommend Bing. Microsoft’s close relationship with Facebook has made it possible to not only get information about search results which my Facebook friends may have Like-d, but in some cases, it also makes it possible for me to share some search results back to Facebook directly from within Bing. The latter piece is powerful in cases like movie or shopping recommendations. I recently used this feature asking my Facebook friends if Rio 3D was worth it. I got 5 responses in 30 minutes which helped me decide it was not worth it. Very powerful.
As for alternatives, it is only Yahoo! at this point (for English at least) and their results are, or will be soon, completely sourced by Bing, so there is no point discussing Yahoo!. Blekko, DuckDuckGo and Wolfram Alpha are super-niche and I have left them out of the discussion.