Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Search Revolution Will Be Evangelized: Bing Director

If you keep pounding the table with a contrarian view, will your view become the norm instead of the exception? Or will your voice drown in the howling void of misplaced hopes?

Those are the questions I find myself asking after reading Microsoft Bing Director Stefan Weitz's comments about search and what is wrong with it in an interview he did with The Huffington Post.

I've seen Weitz speak and I've spoken to him over the phone for an extended period of time. He is charismatic, and I want to believe him, as he told the Post:

Search itself hasn't changed fundamentally in the past 12 years. Traditional search is failing. The standard notion of search ... looking at the texts in the page, the backlinks, all that stuff doesn't work anymore.
Weitz believes the amount of information available online today, combined with the increasingly complex activities users are undertaking, has made current search less effective.

This is all great in theory. I want to believe him. And if he keeps telling people what's wrong with Google long enough, they may well switch to Bing.

But the facts don't support the bluster. Weitz told me the same stuff in March 2010.

Since that time, Bing has gone from 11.5 percent share to 14 percent. Since that time, Google has remained at 65 percent share.

Bing's gains may have come from Yahoo, AOL or, but they certainly haven't come from Google. That's a big reason why its lawyers are siccing the DOJ and FTC on Google, but that's another story.

My point is this: How long can Weitz and Bing claim Google's system is old-fashioned before people actually listen to them and buy into Bing's decision engine premise.

You can call it a decision engine, but if people are still going to Google to get info and make their decisions, Google is the decision engine. It obviously works for the majority of people.

People don't search Google for info then redirect to Bing to help them make decisions. They stay on Google to search more or get whisked away to Yelp, UrbanSpoon or some other Website or storefront. Weitz made another strong point to the HuffPo:

Our mission is literally to deliver knowledge by understanding intent. What that implies is that we understand the Web as this digital representation of the real world. We've now mapped almost every single square inch of the planet, we know where buildings are, we know who the people are, we know what tasks people are accomplishing -- we are literally creating a semantic model, or a model, for everything in the world.
I believe Bing's Weitz is right about this signal-and-intent theory. A big part of the consumer behavior shift Weitz espouses is toward social activities, which is why Microsoft was genius to get in bed snugly with Facebook and its Like button. The Like explicitly signals intent, and friends share it. Simple, yet elegant. It's a beautiful thing.

I just think Weitz has the wrong platform and brand. The Microsoft as online service provider brand sucks, which is a big reason why it hemorrhages money every year. Weitz knows it; so does Microsoft Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft's brand as a Web service provider is as lousy as Google's brand as a social service provider.

But Weitz knows his stuff, and if I'm Google I'd pay attention and take the evangelizing to heart, and do some of the things Bing is doing. That will help Google maintain its lead, and maybe even grow it a bit.

After awhile, the little dog will get tired of chasing the big dog's tail. Weitz will go somewhere where he can make a bigger impact, and Bing will be a thing of the past.