Business Software

The Unbearable Lightness of Bing

One thing I've noticed since I started playing with Microsoft's Bing "decision engine" is that there isn't very much "there" there. And the only decision Bing seems to care about helping me make is a pretty simple one: Buy it here or buy it there, but again there isn't a lot of, well, you know.

Even if Bing knows about the product I am interested in, which so far it most often does not, Bing then makes a fool of itself. It's "cashback" feature is most often, again in my experience, associated with laughably high prices. Great, the product costs 20 percent more and Microsoft will give me 5 percent back. What sort of deal is that? Call it getting Binged.

Warning: The prices shown on Bing already include the cashback discount. That high price you see is already discounted, except this is like a rebate: You pay the higher price now and get the money back in 60 days.

(If you ever find the cashback price to be the lowest price, please drop me a line. I'd love to see.)

Now, I like Microsoft as much as the next guy, but not enough to pay more so that Redmond can get its cut and give me a little back. Also, with Microsoft getting a piece of the action, how do I know the "decision" engine isn't tuned a bit in the company's favor? It would be easy for Microsoft to leave out the lowest price if the company decided to enhance its revenue a bit.

That's not something I think Microsoft is likely to do, but when they make such a big deal out of a cashback program that isn't such a big deal, what's a user to think?

Maybe the Bing buying, er, decision engine will mature over time, adding products and making the cashback a better deal. Or will vendors somehow send a different price over to Bing so that Bing's lowest price with cashback is the same as the regular price shown everywhere else? Not sure how they would do this, but gaming search engines is big business and where there's a will…

I want to like the little snippets of page information that appear when you hover your cursor off to the right of a search result. Except, of course, that most often the information presented was more useless and distracting than helpful.

News is another example of Bing's unbearable lightness. Now, some people will probably like Bing's spare presentation of the day's events. If you like empty space on the page and very, very limited customization features then Bing is for you.

If, on the other had, you'd like your decision engine to help you decide what to think about President Obama or the state of the planet at the given moment, Bing doesn't do it.

My Google News page has been customized to watch topics that I care about. It presents many more stories on many more topics than Bing shows on its news page, yet it is easier for me to skim.

To be the winning search engine, you need to either do all things really well, which Bing does not, or do one or two things really well and find an audience that really cares about those things. I don't thing Bing does that, either, and whatever audience it does find seems, for now at least, to be no threat to Google.

Special note to readers in Redmond: Don't buy Yahoo Search and merge it with Bing. You'd only chase people away.

David Coursey, obviously, isn't wild about Bing. Not that he loves Google, though now that Bing is around he likes Google a lot more. He tweets as dcoursey and can be reached using e-mail from the form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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