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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Microsoft's "Search 2.0"

Microsoft is once again relaunching its search engine - renaming it once again, too (though they call it "rebranding" in this industry). Bing aims to return relevant searches, and "overhaul" Yahoo's search. For example, when you search for a product, Bing will return a description of the item, customer reviews, online shops offering it, and so forth - you know, actually relevant search results! Searches for airline tickets will return competing prices, nearby accommodations, weather results, and similarly related information.

Google has thoroughly damaged users' expectations of search results with its flawed algorithm and irrelevant results. While Google recently took aim at sponsored posts and posters, claiming they skewed their returns, the truth is that Google's entire product used to be search and they can't get that right. In the years since it debuted, Google has become an actual online monopoly, with tentacles in literally every aspect of the Web; its search engine, OTOH, has suffered dynamically - largely because Google returns paid results and results which have been "Search Engine Optimized" (SEO).

Time and again, Google has released cryptic instructions for how to maximize search returns, then punished independent webmasters who utilized them, while placing paid "results" in the top returns. Google has also insinuated itself in every technical aspect of the Web, perverting well-intentioned technical aspects and advancements to further promote its errant algorithm.

Google's introduction of the "nofollow" value, and insistence that it be used for advertisements (text links, etc.), is a corruption of the form rel values use. It is not a noun, nor does it provide any information about the link; it serves only to further Google's ends - promoting links paid for by advertisers. This is just one of Google's many attempts to control the Web and its content.

Searches should return relevant results, so what Microsoft is suggesting is far from revolutionary; the revolutionary idea here is that any company would actually try to make such relevant results happen, because none of these eggheads seem to know how to profit from such a model. If it seems like a no-brainer that they could slap some banner ads around the results and more people would use it if it returned more relevant results, thus resulting in more impressions for the ads and higher revenue for the engine... well, don't tell anyone else that, because for whatever reason, they believe otherwise.

The truth is that these companies are simply greedy. Not in that "They're creedy, corporate pigs" activist sort of way, either; I mean that these companies literally cannot stand to reap anything less than double maximum optimum returns - they refuse to do it. They refuse to compete because that cuts into their revenue and they refuse to take anything less than three or four times what they can earn legitimately because it just isn't worth their time. Microsoft has been guilty of this since Day One and Google took their queue from Microsoft's success (that is, Microsoft got away with it, so Google thinks it should be allowed to get away with it, too - so long as everyone can rob the consumer without reprisal, it constitutes "fairness in business" to these firms).

Paul Stoddart, Microsoft's UK spokesperson for search, told the BBC the company was looking to establish an "emotional connection" with users and build brand loyalty. They hope to do this by changing background themes and engendering a less "clinical" feel than previous attempts. Stoddart dug at Google by noting they depended on ad revenue, which kept them from varying information delivery approaches.

Stoddart shot himself in the foot however, when he noted that Microsoft is actually "teaming" with web services to bring the "best in breed" to users. This means Microsoft's advertising model will be based on culling paid information "providers."

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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