When Microsoft's Bing search engine launched this week we gave it a thumbs-up, now a new study from Nielsen shows it may be able to steal a big chunk of the search market from Google. Yet despite these wins, Bing is off to a jittery start.
Nielsen Online has done some research into how people use search engines, and come up with an interesting result: 72% of all heavy search engine users use three or more different search engines per month. By heavy users, Nielsen really means heavy—80% of the searches begun in the U.S. come from just 20% of search users. These statistics bode extremely well for Microsoft. Because Bing has met pretty universal approval on the 'net, and it should be able to quickly insert itself into the market and garner hits from these heavy users.
But Microsoft may be undoing some of the good PR its earned for Bing thanks to what looks like dodgy behavior with Internet Explorer 6, uncovered by TheNextWeb. IE6 is still in service with a fifth of all Windows users, and recent changes have installed Bing as IE6's default search engine. While that smells of anti-competitive behavior a bit, a full-on stink might be raised by the fact that you apparently can't switch to a different one. Attempting to do so seems to result in IE6 reporting an error, and staying latched to Bing. The situation is being pegged as an error by Microsoft, so the company isn't really living up to its Big Bad Monopoly title, but it's pretty embarrassing all the same.
Next up, Bing's mobile site, optimized for smartphones has also gone live at m.bing.com. It seems to have had a slightly more problematic launch than the main site—starting with its international IP sensing. I write from Portugal, and a visit to Bing takes me directly to a Portuguese splash page with no indication of how to switch to English. And when I search for "Obama" I get a mere two initial results, the first in Portuguese. Over at MobileCrunch, they ran the mobile site through its paces more thoroughly, and judged its performance as mediocre—it lacks the clever decision-engine tweaks that make the main site so good, and they suggest it was rushed into launch by Microsoft. Bing also defaults to the mobile version when accessed via iPhone Safari, which is a surprise since the browser is a very capable one, and the page is badly formatted to fit the iPhone screen.
Meanwhile we've been contacted by little-known search engine Hakia. It launched in 2006, and according to the company it was the first search engine to offer "categorized aspects of search queries" via its Hakia Galleries service. Checking out the site shows that while it's not as graphically polished as Bing, it certainly seems to offer a very similar summary, imagery and drill-down suggestion structure to its search query responses to Microsoft's own. This may be no surprise: Hakia notes that Microsoft "invited" them to "show them the inner workings of the Hakia Galleries in July 2008." Is this more IP theft? Hakia isn't saying so, it's merely suggesting its own system was "one of Bing's inspirations."
Given Microsoft's past bad boy behavior, the IE6 and Hakia news does smell a bit fishy. And it's a shame the mobile site isn't quite as polished as the desktop one yet. But we like Bing. A lot. So, just for once, we're going to give MS the benefit of the doubt. Just fix those errors quickly, hey Redmond?
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