Battle of the Search Engines
In the competitive technology landscape of today, organizations wishing to stay ahead of other firms in the industry must always find themselves on the leading edge on innovation. The biggest challenge for companies, especially for web based companies, who wish to stay on the leading edge is the tendency of competing corporations to copy their business techniques.
Recently, Google has accused Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, of copying its search results. No clear winner to this battle has yet to be identified, but both sides have a vested interest in coming out ahead. To prove it accusations of Bing copying Google results rather than producing it own unique results, Google did a “Bing Sting.” Much planning went into this operation, and many conclusions can be drawn from its results.
The Art of a “Bing Sting”
How exactly does Google think that Bing is stealing results? The graphic to the right from searchengineland.com explains Google’s plan to prove its claims.
- Google finds a nonsensical word that provides little or no matches in either Google or Bing’s search results.
- Google artificially makes the nonsensical word match up with a completely irrelevant search result. At this point, Google claims that individuals who use Internet Explorer and enter Google search queries are being spied on.
- Allegedly Bing now adds the Google results to their search engine results for the nonsensical word.
Google claims that a combination of Bing Toolbar and Internet Explorer users are actually sending Google results to Microsoft who is systematically adding the results to Bing. To prove this, Google gave 20 engineers laptops with Internet Explorer 8 and enabled the Bing Toolbar. The engineers searched for the unconventional words on Google.com and clicked on the results Google returned. Some of the evidence is shown below.
Google added the Wiltern theater as the top result when the search term, “hiybbrqag”, was entered.
Soon after the same result was occurring on Bing
Here is another example.
The tests were done with 100 artificial search queries and rendered many of the same type of results.
Google claimed because many of Bing’s search results are simply copying Google results that they “increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results—a cheap imitation.”
Competing against Google is already enough work, but the search engine giant’s claim that Bing was stealing results started the battle of the search engines. Bing first simply stated, “We do not copy Google’s results.” Later Bing’s Corporate Vice President Harry Shum gave a much more detailed response. He explained the Bing uses over 1,000 different signals to render search results to users. One of the many signals is clickstream data from Bing users who opt-in to share data anonymously . Basically, the results Bing generated were received from Bing users who willingly shared their Bing search results with Microsoft, not from spying on those who used Google’s.
What does it all mean?
While both sides are most likely tailoring their message in their favor, several conclusions can be made from the test itself and what it means for the future of search engines.
Firstly, Google has long claimed that it cannot and will not manually rank results based on search terms. A power that could greatly influence the entire market. For example, what if Google linked the top search result for this year’s most popular toy to a company that Google partly owned? Essentially, Google could direct customers to a website that Google profits from. After publishing these results, the company that claims they can do no evil has proven that they can control results. Google claims they have completely destroyed the technology which allowed them to complete the experiment, but it does not mean they cannot develop it again.
Secondly, if Microsoft really was spying on Google search results and copying them it is not illegal. While some may argue it is unethical, some also may argue that it is a clever use of technology. Google has been in the search engine business far longer than Bing, and that time has provided them a huge technical advantage. Microsoft may have to copy results every once in awhile just to keep up. The larger question is what does this mean for the search engine industry?
At one point in time, there were many competitive search engines that provided a diverse amount of results. The fierce competition has lead to many search engines closing down or, for example, Yahoo!, now displays Bing search results instead of using it own search techniques. With only two big search engines left, how accurate is the information we are receiving from them? If Bing really is copying Google, do we trust Google enough to be the sole provider of all of our answers?
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