Internet-wide search has become an effective duopoly, with Google in the dominant position and Microsoft Bing in distant second.Microsoft also provides search technology for Yahoo, which is currently the number-three player and falling. (See chart.)
Both of the big players unveiled major updates to their search sites today.
The redesigns will not impact search market share for months, if at all — as Microsoft’s search chief Qi Lu told us last week, market share is a “lagging indicator.”
But it’s still interesting to see how each company is playing to its strengths in search, which could help predict where they’ll move next.
Here’s a quick breakdown.
Microsoft’s Edge: Business Relationships
Microsoft unveiled its Bing redesign last week, and it took effect today.
The main element is a new Sidebar that includes functionality from social networks. For now, only Facebook and Twitter participating, but the integration is pretty deep.
For instance, if users conduct a search on “Seattle restaurants,” the Sidebar will display a list of Facebook “friends who might know.” From that list, users can select a friend to post a question directly to their wall — without ever visiting Facebook directly. Users can also see which restaurants their relevant Facebook friends have liked.
There’s also an Activity pane that shows recent updates from Facebook friends.
Microsoft was able to get this functionality because it has a long-standing deal with Facebook to get access to information on the service. Google does not. (Google apparently refused to agree to certain terms Facebook was demanding to get access to this data, but Google has never clearly said what the offending terms are.)
The Sidebar also includes results from “people who know.” For these results, Bing figures out who’s influential on a particular subject based on data from Twitter, such as how often they’ve tweeted and what their tweets are about. In the example above, several results came up with links to personal blogs with information about restaurants in Seattle. It’s not as impressive as the Facebook integration, but could become useful over time.
Here again, Microsoft is leveraging its deal for access to Twitter’s real-time “firehose” of tweets. Google had a similar deal, but let it lapse last September after the companies couldn’t reach terms.
Microsoft also said it would include data from companies like Foursquare and Quora in the future.
Users must be signed into Microsoft’s web properties (with Windows Live ID, used for Hotmail and other properties) to see them.
Here’s a sample screenshot of the changes. The Sidebar is on the right.
Google’s Edge: Scale And Scope
Today, Google unveiled a new feature called Knowledge Graph, which for certain searches adds an extra pane with summary information and related topics to explore.
For instance, if a user searches for “Beethoven,” the extra pane will show a picture of the composer, basic facts like his birth date, and suggestions for related searches of other composers.
Google built this function by mapping hundreds of millions of objects in its search database for relationships. As the company explains:
Google’s Knowledge Graph isn’t just rooted in public sources such as Freebase, Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. It’s also augmented at a much larger scale—because we’re focused on comprehensive breadth and depth. It currently contains more than 500 million objects, as well as more than 3.5 billion facts about and relationships between these different objects. And it’s tuned based on what people search for, and what we find out on the web.
Here, Google is using the massive scale and scope of its search operation to provide a feature that Microsoft would have trouble duplicating. Google has been in search for more than 12 years, and its crawling technology and the scale and speed of the data centres used to store and process that information are unparalleled.
Like the Microsoft Sidebar, Google requires users to be signed in to Google services to see the Knowledge Graph results.
Here’s a screenshot of the new feature:
Both Microsoft and Google are playing to their strengths to try and accomplish the following goals:
- Attract and retain users.
- Keep users at their search sites longer where they’re more likely to see an ad. In the case of Microsoft, users don’t have to leave for a social network to get advice on a search topic. In the case of Google, the Knowledge Graph encourages multiple searches.
- Get users to sign in, which will help each company collect more information about users and their search habits and preferences.
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