First published June 4, 2009 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
I seem to be in the minority. Everybody (including fellow Search Insider Aaron Goldman) seems to be jumping on the Bing bandwagon. It’s generated some good initial reviews, and Aaron goes as far as to say, “Bing is far and away the most serious challenge to Google that anyone’s ever posed.”
I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong. Bing is a good step forward for Microsoft. It shows they’re serious about search. But unlike Aaron, I don’t think Bing is going to make a significant difference in market share numbers. I think Microsoft will get a temporary blip, causing everyone to rush to pronounce Google’s imminent death, and then everyone will go back to searching the way they did before: on Google.
Search needs an iPhone. Bing is a Razr. Bing is a repackaging of the same old experience, the same blue links. Microsoft has added some filters and additional navigation. But at the core, there’s nothing revolutionary about it. It won’t break a habit.
Here’s the fundamental problem. Microsoft says search is broken, and Bing is the answer. If Bing is the answer, it must mean that search wasn’t really that badly broken. In fact, it must have been barely scratched. Because the Bing experience really isn’t that different than my Google experience. Bing narrowed the gap, but they didn’t jump to the other side. It seems to me that it wasn’t search that was broken. It was Live Search that was broken. And, if we agree on that, than Bing is a pretty effective band-aid.
What We Need is an iPhone of Search
But what if Microsoft is right (as I suspect they are), and search is broken? What if we could have a significantly better search experience? What would it take to deliver that? It requires scrapping all preconceived notions and starting over. It requires an approach like the iPhone.
The iPhone isn’t a mobile phone, it’s a mobile Web and computing device. The phone is secondary. The iPhone is in the middle of changing the way we interact with online. We squeeze, spread, stroke, tap and shake. The iPhone also opened up an ecosystem of functionality. The App Store is the true genius of the iPhone: little bits of integrated functionality, making our lives more fun, more productive and more connected. Apple never intended to catch up. It intended to vault over the competition, changing the rules and opening a new marketplace. Apple strategists had nothing short of revolution on their minds.
What Bing has done is heated up the search race again, and that might be the best thing that comes out of its launch. The amount of ink generated already shows that we all want a more competitive search space. Google has had it relatively easy for a long time.
Catching the Wave
Ironically, the most exciting thing I saw last week got lost amongst all the buzz about Bing. Google’s Wave does for email what I am proposing for search: it takes the current status quo and completely shatters it. Wave may be an integral piece in a new, richer world of online functionality, delivered to you through the Chrome Browser. Google is slowly assembling a critical mass of SaaS applications that threatens to change our concept of how we do things digitally. As those pieces come together, count on search to be at the core of it.
If I were Microsoft, that’s what would be keeping me up at night. Its empire was built on a foundation that’s over 20 years old: the concept of desktop applications. It has struggled to move into the new world of SaaS. But Google seems to be getting it and building a new world order around it. Now, that’s a revolutionary concept.