Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Regarding Bing: Microsoft should invent a new category

Ever since the Bing favicon leaked, people have been wondering what Bing is, even though we don't have much to go on besides a name and a favicon. Though details are still sketchy, based on what I've heard, Bing is not bringing anything new to the table. Rumor has it that Bing's basic "innovation" is a search results page showing several different types of search results (images, links, news stories, etc). That kind of thing has been around for a long time and none has really succeeded in one-upping the power of typing in something and getting what you want in the top 3 results 9 times out of 10, which is what Google gives me. Even if Microsoft can 100% replicate that, they are not going to compete with the fact that Search=Google in almost everyone's mind.

Instead of trying to compete in Search, Microsoft should create a new category that it can own. It doesn't matter if in fact this new category is 90% the same thing as Search is currently. What matters is that they should open a window of time where, if people think "I want to Search" they will go to Google, but if people think "I want to ____", they will go to Microsoft. And eventually, that ____ can supersede "Search" as the way to get around on the Internet.

So the question is, what is ____?

There are a few possibilities. First in my mind would be "Explore". Microsoft already "owns" this word. "To Explore" is similar to "To Search", but whereas when you search you are looking for something in particular, when you Explore you are simply looking around in a particular area to learn things. Often when I go to Google I am intending to Explore, in which case I really don't want the results ordered quite so perfectly-- I'd like to stumble onto something I wouldn't otherwise notice. Social news engines like Digg bring some of this to the table, but it is harder to do just "look around" the Internet about a particular topic that is not news based without getting locked into a very well trodden path (Wikipedia, etc.). Microsoft "Web Explore" could be a technology that helps me discover the undiscovered gems on the WWW. If they could work out a very simple web UI (which seems to be a challenge for Microsoft these days) that helps me do this, I may at least bookmark that page in my PC browser.

Another possibility would be "Find". Apple kind of owns this concept via OS X's "Finder". But I don't think they've quite dominated the word like Google has "Search". "To Find" is also similar to "To Search", but implies that you'd actually find the thing you are looking for instead of just searching for it. I am not sure "Find" is quite differentiated enough from "Search" that people wouldn't instantly call foul and ignore this altogether. But it would be worth considering.

One more possibility would be "Locate". A bit less vernacular than "Find" but otherwise a similar concept. This could be leveraged heavily in Mobile and Local Search, a category that is just beginning to really blossom. I imagine location based and more generally context based searching would be key.

Speaking of context, some other concepts that Microsoft could bring to the table that Google would be at least a step behind on would be using knowledge of what the user is currently doing on their PC to drive search results (queue anti-trust concerns). It could notice that when I have Word and Visio open the search results I tend to select are related to academic topics, whereas when I have Eclipse, Sql Studio and Outlook open I am more likely to select Java, CSS, Javascript, and SQL related results. Since my major is Computer related, it wouldn't be that big of a difference for me, but I can imagine it would be fairly different for others.

Anyway, if Microsoft's "Bing" tries to attack Google head on via trying to take over "Search", they will lose. But there is absolutely no reason they cannot get everyone to move from "Search" to an entirely new category.

(Yes, I know this is all based on assumption combined with tell-me-something-I-don't-know, but still I hope an interesting set of ideas)

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