This week proved interesting in the Google-Microsoft wars. Microsoft finally took aim at Google and unveiled Bing, it's newly revamped search engine, while Google held sway at I/O and launched Wave, its new communications paradigm for the Web. While both wares are still in beta, they do provide a glimpse into how the two view the Web marketplace and just who might gain the upperhand in the future.
First, Bing. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the new search engine, previously code-named Kumo, at this week's D: All Things Digital conference in San Diego. Based in part on Microsoft's purchase of Powerset, Bing includes some new features, like entity extraction and expansion, query intent recognition and document summarization technology. Ballmer says Bing is intended more as a "decision" engine than a search engine. As such, it focuses on figuring out what a person is searching for and then providing key actionable information on the first results page (no hitting the "back" key required). And at first, Bing is focusing on four main search areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.
Anyone approaching a search engine with those four tasks in mind can see the attraction of Microsoft's approach. Search for a flight on Bing, and you get a result page with not only the available flights, but their current prices and predictions on whether those prices are slated to rise or fall over time. Very cool.
Where Bing seems to differ with Google is in intent. Google aims to find the most relevant results to any given query (not just four) and then pass users off quickly to other destinations (giving those other destinations a shot at keeping and monetizing those clicks). Bing, on the other hand, looks to draw users into itself, providing them with an edited high-quality result, and then ushering them quickly from the Web entirely. Get it done and get out, seems to be its point.
Now, let's look at Wave. It's a new twist on Web collaboration and communications that aims to mash together a bunch of well-known tools, like e-mail, IM and wikis, and make them work together quickly and efficiently via the Web. Users create a Wave (using text, pictures, a blog or whatever) and then invite specific users to collaborate, adding comments, new information, pictures, videos or comments, on the fly--all within a browser-based workspace. It's a little like a lightweight SharePoint, but without the concomitant Microsoft price tag and product bias (no specific desktop required). Google is pushing Wave as an open architecture, with public APIs, that looks to bring more of the Web and its developers into the fray.
So where Wave seems to differ from something like a Microsoft SharePoint is also intent. Wave looks to support collaboration and project management, but on an adhoc, loosy-goosy basis. No pesky VPNs, hierarchies or consultants required to get up and running. And once a Wave's established, the sky's the limit in terms of who is invited to collaborate and what they might decide to add to the conversation.
The two projects contrast so sharply it throws their creator's views of the Web marketplace into sharp relief. Where Microsoft views the web as an outside entity with some useful information for the workplace, Google views the Web as THE workplace, a place to not only increase overall efficiency but also to engender new ideas and opportunities.
Once again, it's Microsoft with its Web-as-addendum approach vs. Google's Web-is-everything stand. But as more organizations begin to embrace things like unified communications, collaboration, cloud computing and 24-7 always-on enterprise business, it seems clear which mindset fits the market better. And perhaps as Wave and Bing roll out, their adoption rate will prove the point.
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