Why Google Instant Is Good for Microsoft

Google has been playing catch-up with Bing for months. Here’s why Microsoft shouldn’t be tempted to follow today’s Instant announcement.


For months, Google has been playing catch-up with Bing. When Microsoft added page-less image search, Google followed. When Microsoft unveiled a slew of search menu options, Google followed. And when Microsoft introduced background images, Google followed. (Microsoft’s response? “We’ve lost a background image. If found, please return to”)

Today, however, Google is back on the offensive, launching one of the most dramatic updates in years to how we search on the Web. Should Microsoft continue this game of one-upmanship? Absolutely not. Here’s why.

The whole point of developing new features and interfaces for Bing was to distance itself from Google. Yet with each change came a noticeably similar Google upgrade. How could Bing ever set itself apart with Google’s reactionary mindset? The answer now is to simply stay where they are — remaining, in effect, as Google Classic.

With each letter typed, results flash before your eyes in real-time–no “Search” button necessary. “Don’t be alarmed,” Google warns when users first try out its Instant search engine. “Feelings of euphoria and weightlessness are normal.” But what about anxiety and seizures? For new users of Google’s “streaming” search engine (see: the world), the service may be too overwhelming.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone–especially the elderly test-subject Google showcased today as a satified customer–will be able to keep up with Google Instant without a combo platter of Red Bull and cocaine. (Why do you think they called their new indexing system “Caffeine”?) 

Let’s try a search for Google Fast Flip. Punch in “F” to a Google search box, and loads of “Facebook” results now appear. By “Fas,” there are miles of links to “fashion” sites. The next moment, “Fast” brings up page after page for “Fastenal,” a leading supplier of industrial supplies. By “Fast F” users start seeing results for “Fast Food.” And only by “Fast Fl” do we arrive at the correct results.


If that leaves you with a headache, you’ll have to go a long way to find some “aspirin.” “A” leads to “AOL”; “As” to “”; “Asp” to the American Society of the Prevent of Cruelty to Animals…

So Google Instant plays right into Microsoft’s hands — especially given the company’s “Search Overload Syndrome” ad campaign. Everything about Google Instant search screams search overload–the unfortunate side-effect of sifting through millions of results regardless of relevancy.

It seems likely that this shift in search technology may prove too radical or too overwhelming for many users. But will they just turn off streaming search–or turn off Google?

In today’s press conference, Google boasted that only a “small percentage” of users in their tests turned off Instant search, and that they mainly did so because of connection issues. That seems an all-too rosy portrait of adoption rates. Clearly, there is a learning curve for such a novel service–after all, we’ve been clicking the “Search” button for more than a decade now. Doesn’t it seem unlikely that users would latch onto Google Instant so, well, instantly? Maybe in Google’s test-cases.

But out in the real world, Google’s new service may not appeal to users so quickly. Now how–and where–do I search for “market share”? 

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.