My Bing experiment: Experience was more important than results

A two-week challenge to use Bing as my primary search engine taught me a few things about my search habits, notably that the tools to control the results was more important to me than the results themselves

Two weeks ago yesterday, I posted an entry on this blog about how my cousin Raquel, who works at Microsoft in Redmond, "suckered" me into giving Bing a test run as my primary search engine. Actually, it was more of a "put up or shut up" kind of challenge - one of many she's been throwing at me since we were kids.

I think one of the reasons I was so receptive to her challenge was because she wasn't asking me to review Bing - she didn't want some sort of side-by-side comparison against Google or any other search engine. She just wanted to know if Bing could meet the needs of my everyday Internet searches and if there were any particular features that it was missing - or that it was doing better than others.

And so I agreed to give it a test run. I switched the settings on my browser toolbars to make Bing the default and promised to spend one week running Bing. That was two weeks ago and, to be perfectly honest, I kind of forgot about it.

No, wait. That's a good thing.

You see, the results that I obtained with Bing on an everyday basis were - for the most part - just as good as the results I'd get with Google. Oh sure, there were a few searches here and there where I had to tweak the keywords and run a couple of different searches to get the results I needed - but I used to do that with Google, too. (I think it's me, not the search engines.)

That's an important thing to note because, though there are small things that I like and dislike about both Bing and Google, the results themselves were not relevant to any sort of decision that I would have made about either one. I did notice that Bing delivers fewer results than Google on most searches. That's a good thing when you consider that I'm not going to scroll past the first couple of pages of results anyway. But it's also a bad thing because I couldn't help but wonder if the page I was looking for was in the results that Bing didn't deliver.

Still, for me, the experience was more important than the results themselves. With that said, here are a few of my observations:

  • I missed Google's refinement tools built into the left-side of the primary results page on Google, the ones that allow me to drill down the results by filtering for only blog posts or images or headlines from the last 24 hours. Yes, Bing had similar refinements - but not on the main page
  • I also missed the scrolling, real-time headlines built into Google - the ones that include tweets and other headlines. For a guy who's constantly watching for breaking news headlines, this has been an invaluable tool - and I did miss it.
  • I did like the "related searches" that Bing offers. Part of my issues with search is that I'm usually winging it when it come to choosing the right keywords. Bing's suggestions were more than helpful on several occasions - and helped me to find the results I'd been looking for.
  • When it came to images, I liked what Bing had to offer. It allowed me to refine by filtering out photographs from illustrations, looking at images of faces only or those that were in black-and-white or even those that are more tall than wide. Google had similar filtering tools - but Bing's refinement options were better.
  • Finally, when it came to the mobile search experience on my Android phone, Google still was the best - but that was to be expected. It's a Google phone, after all, and the search capabilities are embedded deep into that phone. I suspect that Windows Phone 7 devices will have Bing deeply integrated.

In the end, I don't think I can truly say that Google is better than Bing or that Bing is better than Google. The point of this experiment was whether Bing could meet my everyday search needs - and the answer there is yes. In my two weeks of using Bing faithfully, I never once felt the need to go back to Google and conduct the same search to get better results.

That's all my cousin Raquel was asking me to do - give it a try. Does that mean that "Bing" will become part of my verb vocabulary the way "Google" has? Probably not. This, after all, was the reason all of this started between my cousin and I - because I made a snide comment when she said that she had "binged" something.

For now, I'll leave my toolbar settings set to Bing. Maybe it will become a permanent move. Maybe it won't. But for now, it's not anything I'm losing sleep over.

Thanks for the challenge, Raquel.