Where librarians and the internet meet: internet searching, Web 2.0 resources, search engines and their development. These are my personal views and not those of CILIP or any other organisation I may be associated with.
I've mentioned the Bing meeting in my weblog, and Karen has now posted her views on the Bing UK Round Table Meeting. Our views of the product are very similar which isn't surprising given that we work in the same sector.
Ok, we've got an interesting post ( Microsoft Bing: 7 Quick 'n' Dirty Tricks ) from Microsoft on some of the things that Bing can do. Let's take a look, and remember, these are some of the best things it can do, else why talk about them?
1. You can search for desktop backgrounds; there's a special image size category. Yes, you can do that in Exalead, you can also choose specific sizes in Google and there's a wallpaper option in Google and Yahoo as well. So, nothing new there then.
2. Consumer tools. You can get the contact numbers of any company quickly. It's helpful that the Customer service number is on the results page, so a point for that. However, the same information is available (though one click away) via Ask, Yahoo and Google. Better than Exalead, which doesn't have extended information.
3. Search categories are great for quick gadget research, with a menu of subsearches. Yes, I'd rate this better than the Google related search options. It's also better than Exalead and Ask. Yahoo is the search engine that comes closest here, but I'd still give the edge to Bing.
4. Background image on the home page. Quite frankly, why do I care? It's a complete irrelevance to me. Even Bing says 'it'd be nice if you could turn it off, but it's sorta fun'. No, it's not 'sorta' anything. It's of no value or assistance at all. You can change the background in Ask, you have Google doodles, and Exalead allows you to have the much more useful thumbnail short cuts.
5. You can create an RSS feed for any search. Even then they admit that it's not as up to date as Google Alerts. You could create RSS feeds in previous versions of the search engine, so this isn't an addition or enhancement, it's simply the status quo. While I can't add feeds from Exalead, Ask or Yahoo, I can with Icerocket, so this isn't that much of a new or exciting feature.
6. Video preview. This isn't bad. Mouseover the video link and you'll get to see some of the video. I can't do that in Yahoo or Ask, but I can watch the video on the results page in Google, Exalead. Of course, what this also means is that Bing is not going to be allowed in schools since a couple of mouse clicks gets you to unlimited porn. Bing also makes the point that I can sneak around IP filtering for sites like Hulu. Yes, I bet they're going to love that, but is Microsoft really thinking that I'm prepared to sit and watch a postage sized stamp video?
7. Results previews create summaries for each result. Exalead allows users to preview a page, but I'd have to say Bing wins out on all of the search engines I've used as examples here. So another point.
All told though, not exactly a winning combination. I'm aware that Bing is trying to position itself as a decision engine with marketing towards people who want to buy products, and that's fine, as far as it goes. But I'm still not convinced that Bing is offering anything exciting or innovating or different enough to make any serious searcher want to move from their original choice of engine.
Regular readers will know that I identified a search in the UK version of Bing which indicated that content had been removed from the search results. If you've not seen it you can read it at Phil Bradley's weblog: Bing: excluding results from UK version? Stefan from Microsoft kindly responded to say the following:
Ok, well we saw a video of Bing recently and I wasn't that hopeful based on what I'd seen. The 'decision engine' has now launched properly so we can all play with it. If you're short on time the quick review is 'It's awful. Worse than I was expecting - Microsoft, what are you thinking?' The longer version is below.
There's virtually nothing that's new or innovative with Bing, and every screen that I look at reminds me of another engine. The opening screen looks like Ask, with the search box in a similar position, an image background, a choice below the search box for 'show all' or 'only from United Kingdom' and search options above - web, images, videos, shopping, news, maps, more. Ok.. a cross between Ask and Google.
When you start to search you're given suggested options, so nothing new about that. However, a search for hubble *doesn't* suggest hubble telescope! 'hubble space telescope', 'hubble images', 'hubble homes' and so on, but not the obvious choice.
We get our results, with related searches to the left, results in the middle and sponsored sites to the right. Nothing new or interesting in that. The summary of pages is sketchy to say the least - a bit of text, URL and link to cached pages. No indication of size of the page, when it was updated or visited, no thumbnail. I will however give some points because if you hold your cursor over the entry a little side box pops out giving a little more detail and 'more on this page', which is a reasonable solution, but I'd still prefer to see content on the page.
There is an advanced search function, which allows me to choose to add all terms, any terms, phrase or to exclude terms, but I have to add these one at a time. I can also restrict searches to a domain or specific site, choose a country (though despite what they say I can't search on a region such as Europe as I can with Exalead for example) or I can search limited to a language. However, when I tried this, by limiting to Albanian the first result was a page from the Guardian website about the Bronte sisters. So - not Albanian OR about the hubble telescope. Genius Microsoft, utter genius!
Image search isn't bad, with a sensible related searches option (better than when searching the web in fact), and the image pops out slightly larger if you mouse over it, with size and URL, with an option for similar images. This works reasonably well, and all the images are on the single page - you just keep getting more as you scroll down, which I quite like. There are search options for Size, Layout, Color, Style and People, which is a Google copy really.
Video option works ok, and an image starts to play immediately you cursor over it, though it doesn't play the entire video.
Shopping is a bit weird, since I was taken from the Bing site and dumped at somewhere called ciao! This was quite disconcerting, and it happened for every shopping search that I tried. Moreover, there wasn't a link to get me back to Bing either - I had to click to go back to the site via the browser back button. I've got no idea what's going on there, and while I could find out, if Microsoft can't be bothered to tell me upfront I fail to see why I should care.
News search is quite simply a joke. Brief headline, link to resource, and when the news item was listed. No suggestions, no way of rearranging the results - just the option to save as an RSS feed.
The Maps option takes me to multimap. This is reasonable in the sense that we're told (if we look hard enough) that this is 'From Microsoft Live Search' (note - not 'From Bing), but it leads to a further dislocation of resources. Bing is becoming something that is rather less than the sum of its parts.
Under the 'More option' we're given the chance to search web, videos, images and hang on - how is this 'more'? Oh, we're offered xRank, which is the only 'more' resource that we've not already seen. It's rather like a trending tool, but only works when you give it a search, so you have to kind of know what's trending for it to work properly. Interestingly there's an 'extras' option in the top right, with the chance to search blogs. Apparently it wouldn't have been sensible to include this under the 'more' option. I don't know why, but quite frankly by this point I'm giving up trying to work out how the rat's maze that is Microsoft's mind works. I presume that it's because this resource just links to their 'Bing Community'; it's not (as I first thought) a blog search option. Every other useful search engine has the chance to search blogs and some social media, but Bing doesn't clearly find this necessary.
There are many irritations with Bing. For example, if you click on help you are taken to a page over a Live.com, not Bing. Microsoft have launched a search engine (sorry, decision engine) and are too cheap or incompetent to provide their own help pages - they've simply redirected to their old engine! I discovered this while trying to change the search filter to strict. I can do this in Live, but there doesn't seem to be a way of doing it in Bing unless you really play around. By going into Images, running a search, changing the safe search option there, I can then ensure that it's changed throughout the system. What a mess. It's not that Bing doesn't have a page for Search preferences, it's just that it's almost impossible to get to it.
Bing is a total shambles. It's a mixture of the old, the borrowed and the bolted on. It provides virtually nothing noteworthy and I can't honestly see any reason to use it. What a wasted opportunity.
Bing. Well, we knew it was coming, and it's not quite here yet, but Microsoft is slowly lumbering around, yawning, scratching itself in unmentionable places, putting the coffee on and thinking about launching its new search engine. There's a video available at http://www.decisionengine.com/ and it so reminds me of the way in which Common Craft voice over their excellent tutorials. "but sometimes <pause, lower voice in a conspiritorial manner> search isn't enough."
Apparently what we have here is a decision engine. I'm only going on what I've seen in the video, so this is far from any sort of sensible review, but I can only work with what Microsoft give us, so blame them. There's a huge emphasis on using the resource to buy, save money, go on holiday, do home decorating and so on.
"We started just by organising our results" Well, that's a good step in the right direction - novel idea as well, since no-one has thought of doing THAT before!
"We rate them into logical categories" Right, so you're doing clustering. That's not new either. The top result allows you to go right into the site to key pages. Hey - that's just what Google does! Isn't that a surprise. Further down the page we have a map of listings near a city for 'Home Depot' (the example search), and y'know - Google does exactly the same thing!
"We highlight instant answers" Hmm - isn't that a term that Ask has used in the past?
"We show related searches right there on the results page". Yes, Google does that too, and so do many other search engines. My goodness, this is a new search engine, bursting with concepts I've never come across before!
Shopping for digital cameras, Bing brings together price comparisions and reviews with a page that looks remarkably like Amazon in many respects.
"Even better, Bing gets you cash back". Yes, that's very helpful with the majority of searches that I'm likely to do. This is a tired line and you've been doing it for a while now Microsoft - how about showing me something new?
Bing pulls in information from top medical sites, "so you can be confident that you're not taking the advice of a 13 year old boy." Gee, could you GET any more patronising? If you really think that users are doing to be doing this you must really have a low opinion of your users.
Bing searches travel sites and airlines to get the best ticket options. Yeah, great. This makes it a world beater doesn't it! There's a bunch of rubbish about restaurants as well.
"The world doesn't need just another search engine. It needs a decision engine." This really is dross of the highest order. There wasn't a single thing in the video that was new, exciting, different or innovative. It's just a collection of things that other search engines have been doing for some considerable time, wrapped up in a less than exciting presentation.
Microsoft - if this is really the best that you can do, could you please just stop now? It's insulting the intelligence of users, it's a waste of our time and it's really just embarassing.
There's a posting over on the MSN Live Search blog trumpeting the fact that you can now do a search for live flight information. You simply type in your flight details and low and behold you get information on what's happening with that specific flight. Marvellous and wonderful, except... Google's been doing it for about a year or more now. Compare screenshots: Not sure about you, but I find the Google version smaller, neater and as informative. It's true to say that Microsoft are also offering a 'Flight status' search box, (just type that term in the search box), but if you do that (it's just a long winded way of doing the type of search illustrated) while you get your results you also get sponsored results sitting on top of your answer.
It's bad enough that Microsoft is trying to enthuse us about a search resource that's been available from their competitors for a year or so, but it's just downright poor that even when they try and play catch up they can't improve! Microsoft - please - look up the word 'innovate' in the dictionary and try to use it! As it stands you're a waste of time and space and it's no surprise that you're lagging behind like a snail on crutches.
Yes, I'm terribly late on this one, but better late than never I think. The Microsoft Blog has a posting Live Search : Testing…One…Two…Three! on the work that they're doing to improve Live search. The test name, which they may or may not keep is Kumo. They're including a screen shot as well, and it's almost exactly the same as the Ask triptych format, with 3 columns. Category/narrow on the left, results in the middle, specific media content on the right. Must have been an easy design job for Microsoft is all that I can say. I bet Ask are kicking themselves that they took the dopey pills and redesigned away from their own redesign.
I found this little gem via John Battelle's weblog. He wanted to go to Microsoft's Live search site, but instead of typing in Live.com he forgot and went to livesearch.com and got this:
I just did the same thing as well. Surely, if you know anything at all about the Internet, you make sure that you get every appropriate (and indeed inappropriate!) domain name that you possible can. Google is forever buying up domain names just so that this doesn't happen.
I think we can add this under the 'way past time' category really. Live Search has announced that it's now possible to get news alerts and what particularly amuses me about this is that they're trying to make it sound so new and exciting, as though it's a brand new concept. Anyway, you can get top headlines, headlines for a specific subject, find out what's happening in your neighbourhood and so on. Simply sign into the service with your Live ID, click on news alerts, create and alert, and you're done.
Except... if you don't live in the land of the free. Trying the service out I got the message that this service wasn't supported in my area. How much hammering of heads against walls is necessary to wake Microsoft up to the fact that the world doesn't actually stop at the borders of the US? Pathetic!
. This is a bit of an oddity. Way back in April, Microsoft launched a thing called 'SearchTogether' which is a way that people can collaborate using a resource that looks remarkably like MSN Messenger (which already has a shared search option in it). There was a little bit of a flurry of interest - but not a great deal. Then all of a sudden, the New York Times publishes Novelties - The Online Search Party - A Way to Share the Load I have to admit that even I winced at the 'Novelties' aspect of the thing.
Apart from the date aspect, there are a few things about this resource which are *so* Microsoft they're painful. Firstly it's a download. Now, I really don't downloads very much these days - since I'm bouncing around between desktops and laptop and mobile what do I want to fuss around with downloading software for anyway? Secondly it's a plugin for IE, and IE7 to be precise. So immediately we're into the proprietary territory which doesn't impress me either. Third is the choice of search engine. Surprisingly, we're not limited to Live, but we can use Yahoo! or Google. But what amused me here is that the wording is "choices include". So Microsoft is actually saying that they're limiting my options, rather than simply saying 'use whatever engine you want'. And if I can't actually do that - why not?
Is it any wonder the MS is lagging so far behind in search?