Dramatic license in the Bing/Google race

Search industry observers pay close attention to the battle between Bing and Google, but, so far, it's not even close.

Media coverage of the search industry often reminds me of the editing on The Amazing Race. Even if the first-place team is miles and hours ahead of the second-place team, the producers have to make things seem close and exciting. Otherwise, why would you watch? Come to think of it, this past U.S. election was a bit like that as well. And so it passes that Bing's every move gets covered in relation to Google. Is this the upgrade that will finally allow Microsoft to breathe Google's rarefied air? Will we finally see Bing launched into the Google stratosphere? Actually... yes. Literally. Last week, Bing got its name on the rocket launching the GeoEye-1 satellite for collecting space-based imagery. As it turns out, though, the space race is no closer than the search race: not only did Google do the same thing last year, but whereas Google got exclusive access to the imagery, Microsoft has to share with its bigger rival. A year behind, engaging in activities that give it no unique advantage whatsoever. That pretty much sums up the competition at the head of the search field. Take a look, for example, at Efficient Frontier's Q3 search report. Their big news is Bing, whose click share has gone up 0.7% and whose share of spend has gone up a full percentage point since the prior quarter. Yes, this is a huge gain for them. Yes, this gain is even bigger in relative terms to their overall position. Yes, I read Don Dodge's 2007 post on why 1% of the search market is worth $1 billion. And here's what we have to do to keep this "close" race in perspective: Google still has more than 70% of the overall market, while Bing is still hovering around 5%. Right now in search, there's heaps of innovation happening. Take a look at Wowd, for example. The startup's shift-on-the-fly results could revolutionize real-time search. No, Wowd isn't just a new way of searching tweets; it's a way of tapping into the wisdom of the crowd to adjust relevance in real time. Even more importantly, Wowd's interface -- it's a browser-based app that can provide a variety of functionality rather than a search engine that delivers static pages -- could be a disruptive innovation in search. Imagine SERPS that you can interact with beyond just a clickthrough. Imagine being able to drag the results on the page into the order you find most relevant. Imagine being able to "zoom in" to a result so you get an expanded preview, instead of having to click on the result, discover it's not for you, hit the back button, and start again. An interface like this could be enough to jolt people into a habit change. But right now, Bing has no disruptive innovation. They have no competitive advantage. Coming as it does from Microsoft, Bing doesn't even have the luxury of being considered the lovable underdog. As long as the game we're playing is still search-as-we-know it, Google will continue to dominate the market. One day, Bing or Wowd or Hakia will change the game, and Google may not be quite as skilled with the new rules as it is with the old. But for now, don't let the scary, tension-building classical music fool you. Bing is doing well -- but they're still not even close.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

Take IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey: You’ll provide important data and have a chance to win $500.