Well, it has been an exciting week. I had pledged to use Bing exclusively in place of my preferred search engine, Google. I knew going into this that I would get a little bit of flak and cause some ill will, as the topic of search engines can be a religious-type conversation among techies. That, and depending on how we search and when we search, we can each get completely different results – literally. This test was not at all surprising in those aspects. Here is my run-down on the final day, and a summary of my findings.
On my final day, it was mostly uneventful. This is to say that for the most part, I found what I was looking for when I was looking for it. Only one specific search stood out as a “failure” today.
There is no way around it. You are going to misspell your words from time to time. Luckily for us, the search engines like many sites have come up with creative ways to account for this all-too-common human error. It is rare that a standard application has a problem with this, but for search engines it is quite a different proposition. Many applications have a certain type of context to work with. Even when factoring in programs such as a word processing application, they are not dealing directly with expectation of context. It just scans the words and offers feedback for words it doesn’t recognize.
Search engines do not have the luxury of the scan-it-and-forget-it software approach. They are instead bound by a much more fluid and sensitive aspect of software design in anticipating what a human user is expecting to see instead of what we want them to see. For the most part, search engines do fine. However, Bing really missed the bus on one of my searches today.
A while back, I wrote a tongue in cheek blog entry poking some fun at Chris Hammond and Shaun Walker. It’s not really important to know who they are if you don’t already. But in a niche .Net community, they are considered a pretty big deal. I wanted to link to this blog post, so I searched for it on Bing, and a happy accident happened. I misspelled Chris’s last name. Bing had no idea how to handle this.
If this alone was taken into consideration, it wouldn’t be an issue at all, but I plugged in the same exact search terms into Google to see how it would do.
As you can see, Google was able to pull context out of the same search terms and determine that I meant to spell Chris’s last name with the missing “D” at the end. I wouldn’t know how to pull context out of the same search terms, but the engineers at Google have figured out how, while Bing apparently didn’t.
Over the course of the week, Bing was consistently giving problems finding what I was looking for. Out of a total of 8 problems I logged with searching, Bing only won out over Google once. Every other time, Google clearly had its pulse on what I was looking for. While writing this blog entry, I also gave myself time to reflect over not only what happened, but why I think those things happened.
Google has had a very long time to work on their search algorithms. In a world where a month can equate to a year of time in technology, Google has a lifetime of work ahead of the engineers at Bing. When you take that into perspective, you might think to yourself, Google clearly has the upper hand. I would say otherwise. Using my analogy, Google beating Bing at this is like a retiree beating up a 4rd grader. You would expect it, and you would likely root for the underdog as well as be more forgiving for its mishaps.
I mentioned that there were 8 problems I’ve had searching. I must have used the search features on Bing nearly 100 times or more over the course of the last 7 days. Bing only failed me 7 percent of the time. Whoa! That 4rd grader has really matured. That retiree should be ashamed! At this rate, we might see Bing overtake Google in relevance within the next couple of years.
However, I am not as forgiving as you might be. I will be reverting back to Google until the day comes where Bing is more useful to me than Google. My time is much too valuable to me to continue to switch search engines – even if it is only 7% of the time.