The search engine wars are heating up again, but unlike previous battles Microsoft's Bing and Google's Google are taking different approaches to win over users. Bing is doubling down on Facebook integration, while Google is moving aggressively into the media space with Google TV and Chrome OS netbooks.
These aren't the clashes of old, such as the battle for real-time results, the duel at the Web 2.0 Summit and the semantic search showdown. This time each brand is moving into new frontiers and betting that users will follow them into the future. Who will win? To find out you'll have to query your favorite search engine from your PC, mobile device, television or Facebook.
Bing announced on Wednesday some new Facebook integration features that include displaying Facebook "likes" from your friends in your search results. Say you were searching for information on Bing about Star Wars. If several of your friends have liked Star Wars anywhere on the Web, those likes could appear in your search results. The thinking is that you are more likely to click through to a site or service if a friend recommends it.
Google has a similar social search feature that focuses primarily on pulling information from Twitter, Digg, Friendfeed, and Google services such as Gmail and Reader. The search giant is also getting set to launch some kind of social networking service.
Recommendations from Facebook are different from other social networks, however, since you are more likely to have personal connections with Facebook friends than you are with, say, your Twitter followers.
Google the Media Baron
Google is also trying to improve Web-based search results such as its recently launched Google Instant, in which search results change as you type. But Google is moving beyond Web search into other areas, specifically your living room with Google TV. The search giant recently launched Google TV set-top boxes from Logitech and HDTVs from Sony. These devices are the latest attempt to merge the Web with broadcast television. In typical Google fashion, Google TV's mechanism for content discovery is search. Just enter the name of a movie or television show you want to see into Google TV, and you'll see results that include local TV listings and Websites offering the show you want to see.
The first round of Google Chrome OS netbooks are also expected to hit the market shortly. The computers are basically running a glorified version of the Chrome browser with Google as the default search engine.
Microsoft is obviously a main competitor for Google's netbooks since Windows XP and Windows 7 are the dominant netbook operating systems. The software giant has also been trying to break into the television for years with its Media Center software without much success. But Microsoft's Xbox 360 is a smashing success and is continually expanding its feature set. Could a Bing version of Google TV hit the Xbox 360 in the future? Anything's possible.
What is key here is that both companies are trying to become the central organizing force for your digital life. They want to handle it all, whether adding social networks to your search results or being the provider you turn to for health information, movie times, traffic information or driving directions.
Reality Check: The War is Still Over
While Bing may want to be a strong competitor to Google, consider one undeniable truth about search in the U.S.: no war exists, because Google won the battle for search a long time ago. On Wednesday, comScore released its U.S. search engine rankings for September. Google came out on top with 65.4 percent of all U.S. searches, with Yahoo in second place at 17.4 percent, and Microsoft in third with 11.1 percent of American searches. ASK and AOL trailed the three leaders with 3.8 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.
Now let's contrast that with comScore's results from May 18, 2009 just 10 days before Microsoft relaunched its LIVE search product as Bing. Google led the pack with 64.2 percent of U.S searches, Yahoo had 20.4 percent, Microsoft had 8.2 percent, ASK had 3.8 percent and AOL bottomed out at 3.7 percent.
That means over the last 16 months, Google has risen by 1.2 percent, Yahoo and AOL together have lost 4.4 percent and Ask has remained exactly the same. Microsoft's Bing, meanwhile, has risen by 2.9 percent. That's more than double Google's growth rate, but hardly bridges Google's massive lead on its competitors. I suppose you could also lump Yahoo's share in with Microsoft's since Bing now runs searches for Yahoo in the U.S. Lumping Yahoo and Microsoft together would give Bing 28.5 percent of the U.S. search market. Even then Bing is still woefully behind Google. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft had to buy Yahoo's search queries to get even that close.
The search war may be over in terms of Web traffic, but battles for the living room, the social Web and even mobile devices has just begun.