It's hard to imagine big, bad search monopolist Google quaking in its boots over Bing (or even Bing+Yahoo). Yet just a couple of months after Microsoft launched Bing, Google announced it is tweaking its own search infrastructure.
Google officials said on August 10 that the company is seeking help testing a new-and-improved search system, codenamed "Caffeine" -- complete with changes to its indexing, ranking and crawling mechanisms. Silicon Alley Insider speculates that Caffeine could be the "secret project" to which the New York Post was referring back in June when it reported that Google cofounder Sergey Brin was assembling a crack team of Google search experts to tweak Google's engine in response to Bing.
Bing, the revamped Live Search, included a number of user-interface changes, as well as tweaks to the underlying Microsoft search algorithm. The Caffeine test site -- which anyone can try themselves starting August 10 -- doesn't offer any kind of noticeable UI tweaks. It does, however, change the way results are ranked.
Search Engine Land did a side-by-side comparison of a search for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" using the old and new Google engines. They found the new Google infrastructure returned video and news results midway down the page. The current Google search system, however, returned news at the top, video in the middle, and images at the bottom of the page, Search Engine Land found.
What about comparing a Bing search to a Google Caffeine search? Here's how a search for "Moby" looked when I used Caffeine. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
And here's how it looked with Bing:
With Bing, Moby images are the first link. The whole Bing page feels more like a site optimized to sell users something: Moby MP3 downloads, ringtones, posters, t-shirts. With Caffeine, video links are fourth on the page. News and blog posts about Moby are a little further down. On Bing, news and blog links are nowhere to be found on the first page of results.
Caffeine and the exiting Google search results are less different from one another than are Google's and Bing's results. Here's what a search on Moby on the existing Google infrastructure looks like:
Video results are in roughly the same place using the current Google search infrastructure as they are when using Caffeine. With the existing infrastructure, image results are at the bottom of the first page of results. News and blog results are -- the same way they are with Caffeine -- about two-thirds of the way down the page.
I realize this is hardly a definitive test. I'm sure search-engine experts will be dissecting Caffeine far more thoroughly in the coming days. But so far, I'm hard-pressed to say that Google's Caffeine indexing system seems like it is meant to yield results that are more Bing-like in any way.
What's your take? Is Caffeine a response to Bing? Do you see any tweaks Google is proposing with Caffeine as being in response to Bing?