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How Microsoft stacks up against Google's latest search and mobile wares

Hoping (unsuccessfully so) to head off the glowing press Google was bound to get this week for its "future of search" preview, Microsoft showed off some of its latest enhancements to Bing last week. But on December 7 -- the day of Google debuted its latest advances -- the Softies had nothing to say about how its own offerings stacked up against Google's new visual- and real-time search prototypes.
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Written by Mary Jo Foley, Contributor on

Hoping (unsuccessfully so) to head off the glowing press Google was bound to get this week for its "future of search" preview, Microsoft showed off some of its latest enhancements to Bing last week. But on December 7 -- the day of Google debuted its latest advances -- the Softies had nothing to say about how its own offerings stacked up against Google's new visual- and real-time search prototypes.

I thought that the Bing team might want to weigh in, given Microsoft showed off bits of its own visual search and Bing-Twitter integration capabilities since earlier this fall. Wouldn't it be useful to offer information on how your own offerings compare, especially since many of the press and analysts covering Google's search event didn't seem to know or care that Microsoft already had demonstrated these technologies? But all I could get from the Bing team was this statement, delivered via a spokesperson:

“We’re not surprised to see Google joining us in launching a real-time search feature.  This is a new and exciting space and we look forward to ongoing competition and product innovation.”

Fortunately, Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb did a nice job in comparing and contrasting the real-time search offerings from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo. In a post entitled, "Google is Beating Bing & Yahoo Again, Now In Real-Time Search," Kirkpatrick notes that Microsoft's real-time search results are so far limited to Twitter with little pruning of "low-value" retweets. "Twitter, is of course just a small part of the real-time Web," he notes.

More of his analysis of Bing's real-time search capability:

"Bing's 'real-time search' comes in the form of a special page for Twitter results. On that page you see a tag cloud of popular terms on Twitter, links shared regarding those terms and a few recent tweets in which each link appeared. It's not very visually appealing. In fact, it's downright ugly. It's also not integrated extensively into the main Bing site."

Bing fared better than Yahoo Search on the real-time comparative front, in Kirkpatrick's view. He called Yahoo MIA in the space, with next-to-no Twitter or any other kind of real-time search integration.

Microsoft didn't even mention visual search when I asked Bing execs' response to Google's "Goggles" preview. Goggles allows users to take photos of things like  business cards, bottle labels, book covers, landmarks and buildings on their mobile phones and receive back information about those objects on their phones. Microsoft's Visual Search is not designed (from what I can tell) for mobile phones; it's meant to allow users to scroll through images of world leaders, dog breeds, laptops and other select categories to help them narrow their search results.

Being someone who prefers searching with words to pictures, I haven't found a use for Microsoft's Visual Search prototype so far. But Goggles? If it did nothing more than allow me to scan business cards and enter them automatically into my contact list, I'd be sold. (The fact it also provides wine information/ratings from labels is an extra bonus!)

On to tagging -- where the Redmondians, to their credit, weren't simply clamming up.

Google showed off on December 7 a prototype of its mobile tagging technology. The company is "QR" barcodes to more than 100,000 local businesses in the U.S. Mobile users can snap a picture of the bar codes and obtain information about that business -- including reviews, coupons, and other information. (Smartphone users need an app on their phones that can read the QR codes.)

In January 2009, Microsoft launched a beta of its own bar-code search technology, known as Microsoft Tag. It also introduced a free mobile tag reader. Microsoft, being Microsoft, couldn't simply rely on the QR standard. Instead, it announed it was creating its own bar code technology that stores more information, more dynamically, offering more user choice. It's cool that Microsoft Tag allows developers to determine the content and experience users will have by allowing choices of text, video, maps, discounts, promotions. But the lack of QR support is a deal breaker for some.

Microsoft officials aren't yet ready to say when the company will move Tag from beta to final, but they are touting Tag as "ready for prime time, mass usage," according to a company spokesperson. Microsoft's Tag technology has been rolled into a number of prototype applications around the world, in their print ads, bus schedules, yellow-page ads and other vehicles. Microsoft isn't sharing adoption data.

"We can share that Tag has thus far exceeded our (big) expectations for adoption and usage- a trend we expect to see continue, the spokesperson said.

When Microsoft delivered a version of Tag for the iPhone, some called it "another useless app from Microsoft." When Google announced support for bar code reading and search on mobile devices, the move is heralded as "compelling."

Even though Google is the No. 1 search vendor, that doesn't mean the search world only should be viewed through Google-colored Goggles... But Microsoft's tired "we don't discuss our competitors" attitude isn't helping the company any in the search space...

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