Microsoft Bing: What does Yahoo think?

Lots of reviewers, pundits and even Dancing with the Stars king Steve Wozniak already have weighed in with what they think about Microsoft's new Bing search engine. But what about Microsoft's search rivals -- and specifically its former takeover target, Yahoo?

Lots of reviewers, pundits and even Dancing with the Stars king Steve Wozniak already have weighed in with what they think about Microsoft's new Bing search engine. But what about Microsoft's search rivals -- and specifically its former takeover target, Yahoo?

Late last week, I had a chance to talk to Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo! Search Strategy, about his impressions. (Given that a number of industry watchers believe Bing will take search share from Yahoo more than Google, Yahoo's take on Microsoft's new engine was especially relevant, in my opinion.)

Raghavan was upfront that he had only seen Bing demos and screen shots and not actually used the Bing test site. Same here, I told him. As Microsoft has started rolling out Bing to the public today, June 1, those of us who weren't among Microsoft's chosen few now can start trying it, too.

Some pundits are expecting Bing to take search share from Yahoo more so than Google, so Yahoo officials' take on Bing is relevant. Even without having a chance to put Bing through its paces, Raghavan had some interesting observations to share.

  • Is the Powerset natural-language technology which is integrated into Bing give Microsoft a leg up over its competitors? "'Semantic' is an overloaded term," Raghavan said. He said many in the search field, from Yahoo to Google, are using statistical semantic processing, rather than the natural-language semantic processing techniques Powerset uses.
  • Microsoft is planning to do a Bing for Mobile version of its engine for mobile phones/devices, but there's been no word on when and how Microsoft plans to roll out that technology. Yahoo's approach was to start from mobile search (Yahoo oneSearch) and port that technology back to the desktop, Raghavan noted. "In other countries, there are as many or more mobile searches done than desktop searches," he said. And mobile users seldom, if ever, wnt the "ten blue links," which are often links to static documents, not live "objects" like move times, sports scores, etc.
  • At least based on last week's launch messaging, "Microsoft is saying its aim is helping users make a decision, but they are stopping short of helping them complete the task," Raghavan said. With the Bing "decision engine," Microsoft is coming closer to understanding users' intent -- say, by helping them find tickets to Star Trek -- but does Bing actually offeirng users the ability to buy those tickets without a lot of additional clicks? (It seems like the answer is no, other than when shopping specifically for products, from the few Bing searches I've tried this morning.)

  • Microsoft is making much of the user interface for Bing, with its "table of contents" style presentation of information for many common search categories. But will the company be willing to modify this user interface if it turns out that isn't how most users want to see their results, Raghavan wondered. Even though Microsoft tested Bing (then known by its codename "Kumo") among tens of thousands of its employees and other selected Live Search users, that sample is actually a fairly small one, he said. (There are lots of interesting kinds of queries that can be executed on Bing, but I don't think I would have known about them if I hadn't waded through pages and pages of documentation.)
  • Yahoo is focusing a lot of its search energies on two projects which don't seem to have direct Microsoft complements: SearchMonkey and BOSS. SearchMonkey is all about getting Web publishers to provide Yahoo with data for search listings; it's a replacement for meta tags "which were largely used by spammers," Raghavan acknowledges. BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) is Yahoo's program aimed at getting developers to build custom search engines using Yahoo's technology underneath. There are 30 million BOSS queries being done a day (none of which are counted towards Yahoo's overall search shared), compared to about 40 million Live Search queries a day, Raghavan said. Update: Microsoft officials said this figure is too low and that they have been getting four million queries per month, or more than 133 million queries a day with Live Search. Update No. 2 (June 2): Not so fast, say Yahoo officials. According to comScore's April 2009 data,  Microsoft averages 40 million queries per day or 1.208 billion per month.

How much will rebranding Live Search as "Bing" help Microsoft grow its search share? Is having a "verb-able" name like "Google" going to give Microsoft much of a leg up?

"Part of me wants to say (growing share in) search is just about branding," Raghavan said, but that's not really the case. Yahoo has become the No. 2 search player without a catchy search brand and has no intentions of spending millions to get folks to say "Let's Yahoo! search that!"

Over the coming days and weeks, it will be interesting to see what everyday users think of Bing -- and how Microsoft plans to spend that $100 million ad budget.  Readers: If and when you try out Bing, I'd be curious to hear what you think of it -- compared to Google, Live Search and Yahoo Search.


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