The Bing Thing

Microsoft is re-searching. With Bing - A Better Way to Search.

Danny Sullivan is partially impressed, but thinks they're positioning it wrong. Fair enough. But that discussion also brings up the usual question about who (or what - since it could be something they make themselves) will displace Google, or at least lower the following that it has.

My personal take is: the answer is multi-fold.

The Game You're Trying To Play Has Been Won

Because the current victor wrote, and continues to rewrite the rules.
  • Every website tries SEOing - and that plays right into their hands.
  • The reasons why people will seek alternatives will be the ones that break this vicious/virtuous SEO loop
  • More people should be trying to be found *fairly* but its a mad scramble for the first 20 results of one site - and that serves Google's cause.
  • Everyone's trying to be friendly to the Google crawler.
So..... ?

Generic vs Specific

Discovery is a major problem - to start with. For travel related queries (airfares, rentals, hotels), for instance, Google is often NOT necessarily the starting point, and certainly not where people spend too much time. Once they figure out a site they feel comfortable with for their particular vacation/trip/destination, their spend more time researching that instead. Trouble is, the latter is not a large organized set yet - and you keep running into different "important" sites with time, change of destination, etc.

News is another major area where Google is dependent on News sites, since it does not "create" news! Its merely the huge attempts at making themselves as easily discoverable on Google as possible that keeps Google News in business. News sites could so-very-easily establish an alternative for themselves, only if they thought it through and collaborated some.

Vertical focused destinations have a huge advantage of industry understanding - the "semantics", behaviour derived design and interfaces come for free! Google News is mere links - there's hardly scope for editorials, commentary - those often distinguish the great newspapers from the ordinary. The News industry, by virtue of being the producer of content, can do a much better job of a news destination. From thereon, its just a matter of starving Google of good enough, trusted news and commentary, and exposing it through an API at most. Make Google play your game, instead. At least the big guys surely can, while they still have some control over mass media and distribution.

Data is Key

And Google's just about scratched the surface. The deep web has an unfathomable amount of valuable, clean data. Yes Google is making attempts at a semantic understanding of what it crawls, but at the end of the day your forms are the sentinels of what you posess. As data gets deeper on sites, and forms get smarter, more interactive and un-crawlable, there will be lots of data that can only be co-operatively shared. Deeper data is also more useful for the end user (one of the points that MS has tried to make) and can be linked to actions that are relevant to the specific category.

Google's "control" over sites trying to feed its supremacy will reduce dramatically as and when a "co-operative" search engine starts attempting aggregation of deep data whilst not denying individual sites negotiating power for the data they own, its usage, and the actions that are associated with it.


This is a completely new ballgame. Some of the above strategies will come alive here, and add to that a mix of the mobile apps battles in which operators, handset manufacturers and Google are all trying to establish control. One scenario is that people stick to a lot of individual apps on an easy to use platform rather than rely too much on discovery. Each app will need discovery within a particular domain or vertical, though.

Going back to data,its especially true on the phone that a larger index is not what interests folks anymore (iPhone or not - the form factor is still a pain, and user behaviour on the move is unlikely to be similar to what it is on the desktop). Smaller, cleaner, better categorized and graded indices will automatically help decision making, and users could choose the route of a "bouquet of relevant services" rather than a massive ocean to fish in.

SEO and the Tag Games

Try queries made up of common words (more so if they're of commercial interest) and your first few results - and sometimes a page or two of results - is all SEOed, not-necessarily-relevant crap. Yes, Google's trying to fight this battle, but the current algo is almost fair game and SEOing, which should, from a search engine's point of view, be outlawed, is a huge industry! All built around this one search engine. Its a cat and mouse game that Google's caught up in - and an case for a "SEO-bombed? Try the other engine" opportunity for engines which have a different algo, or solve problems in a specific domain.

My guess is that the current state and dominance of generic websearch will last at most for another 3-4 years. Indeed, Yahoo's continuously changing mobile search and Google's attempts at "injecting" results from other properties into the SERP are an acknowledgement of this direction. One possible replacement is a personalized swiss army knife of sharper engines - somewhat analogous to your bookmarks which continue to guide you to your frequented sites everyday. A tool-set of searches that serve your interest will be a wider set than a few sites and much cleaner, and more interactive (in terms of what you can do with the information once you find it). The interface for this is not too clear, and likely to be different from our current experience of the web. It'll need to come "pre and auto configured" for the less savvy users for sure.

In 2015, we'll recall amusing statements from 2009 about the state-of-the-art of web search :)

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