Monday, 8 June 2009

Bing Fail

For my first experience with Microsoft's new search engine Bing, I decided to look for - what else? - "Danton Sideways".

(I always put quotation marks around the name, in order to find only articles where the first and last names are together. I thereby avoid articles containing sentences such as: "Danton looked sideways at Robespierre…".)

The results of my Bing search were pretty disappointing.

I look up Danton Sideways on Google from time to time, and I'm used to seeing the present blog as the first search result, up at the top of the first page of results. Which is logical, since this is my main blog, on which I've posted numerous articles over the past year and half, several of which have been widely cited in other blogs.

But when I search for Danton Sideways on Bing, the present blog fails to show up at all on the first page of results. Down in the middle of the second page of results there is a single link to one article from the blog – and nothing more thereafter.

Moreover, it is instructive to compare the simple number of search results. The Google search gives 649 results for "Danton Sideways", while the Bing search gives – a measly 153 (only about a fourth as many).

The explanation for this relative poverty of search results may have been given by one of the Mashable bloggers. On first trying Bing, this British blogger discovered that the results were exactly the same as those given by the British, just with a different presentation. (However, it appears that there were significant differences between results shown on the U.S. as compared to the U.K. Microsoft quickly redirected all traffic from to, so the experiment could not be repeated. But this strongly suggests that all of the novelty in Bing is in the presentation, and that Microsoft is still serving up basically the same data and algorithms as was in their Live Search engine.

But there may be even more sinister reasons to explain why this blog is low in the Bing listings. Rather than allowing the algorithms to produce objective rankings, Microsoft seems to be manipulating certain search results. As TechCrunch noted recently, the Bing search results for "Linux" are suspiciously scanty:

"Using Google, you get much better results for this query, period. Google lists at least five very relevant links (,,, and that you will not find in the first 15 search results on Bing. No nifty sidebars, nor any amount of spot-on similar results will help Microsoft here."

Could it be that Bing deliberately downgrades blogs that run on Blogger (such as this one), knowing that Blogger is owned and operated by Google? Or on the contrary, has Google favored my Blogger blog, in order to promote Blogger?

It occurred to me that I could put this question to a test by trying yet another search engine. So I looked up Danton Sideways on Yahoo. The present blog showed up in second place in the Yahoo results for "Danton Sideways", just after my other blog, which deals with OpenSim. (I might note in passing that Yahoo returns 831 search results for "Danton Sideways" – even more than Google.)

So there is reason to think that Bing is deliberately under-ranking Blogger blogs. This is just a supposition, but one that becomes credible in the light of everything we know about Microsoft's long-standing monopolistic practices. (Added note: this supposition would seem to be stretching things - see my Comment below.)

For a pertinent commentary on Microsoft's reputation among internet developers, see this recent post about Why Karma Matters. The author of the post notably states: "Microsoft just has so much bad karma in this industry that I cannot imagine a company like us trusting them on much of anything."

Another good example of the Microsoft approach was noted by TechCrunch: Bing automatically became the default search engine on Internet Explorer 6, whether the user wanted it or not. This was quickly explained by Microsoft as a "bug" which they claimed to have already fixed. But it is hard to believe that this was a mere accident, given that Microsoft has aggressively employed similar tactics for decades.

It may turn out that Bing is more hype than a real innovation on the search engine market. The statistics seem to show that users are unconvinced. TechCrunch reports that the flurry of media attention focused on Bing led to a sharp upward spike in use, which lasted… exactly one day. For twenty-four hours Bing shot ahead of Yahoo and captured part of Google's market share, only to fall promptly back down. Karma? Or just an offering that fails to satisfy the demand?