By Harry McCracken | Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 2:13 am
I kinda doubt that anyone involved planned it this way, but yesterday provided an interesting study in contrasts between the world’s biggest search engine and its most notable rising star. In the morning, I attended a Bing press event. It was highlighted by the debut of a feature-packed new version of Bing Maps, but also included demonstrations of how you can get weather reports from three different providers right within Bing. And watch movie trailers, and view slideshows. Bing may be a search engine, but that doesn’t mean its goal is to get you to leave–it’s at least as happy if it can help you without you having to click away to another site, and it won’t shy away from throwing a lot of stuff at you.
At the event, Microsoft executives repeatedly disparaged what they called the “command line” approach to search–the command line being a simple search field of the sort synonymous with Google. When it comes to search, Microsoft argued, more is better.
Later that day, Google had a search announcement of its own: It’s unveiling a new home page that begins by showing you only the Google logo, the search field, and the Google Search and I’m Feeling Lucky buttons. Only when you move your mouse around do you see other elements such as the links to other Google services along the top of the page.
Google, in other words, is doubling down on that “command line,” by putting the search field front and center, and stripping away nearly everything that it can strip away. There’s more white space on that page than ever before, which makes it even more strikingly different from Bing’s home page, which replaces white space with a different interesting photograph each day.
Now, there was a time when Microsoft attempted to channel Google’s minimalism, as witness the old Live Search home page…
…but its new, dense-with-stuff approach–call it maximalism–makes a lot more sense. Compared to Google, Bing’s maximalism offers a choice, not an echo. And it lets Microsoft be Microsoft–just about every success the company has ever had has involved products that are bursting at the seams with features. It’s far more in Microsoft’s nature to give you detailed weather from three sources than to do what Google does–which is to give you as brief a weather report as possible, than send you off-site for more information. It’s also far more Microsoft-esque to try to fill every available pixel with something than to proudly leave it untouched.
Numerous search engines have tried to beat Google by being a better Google than Google. Some have been willing to experiment with being different from Google. (Ask.com comes to mind–but lately, it’s looking more like Google than it used to.) But I don’t think any Google rival has attempted to be, in effect, the opposite of Google. That’s what Bing is evolving into. So far, it seems to be helping: Microsoft told us this morning that Bing’s market share has grown for five months in a row, a feat no Google rival has ever accomplished.
My fingers still take me instinctively to Google when I need to search, and I’m extremely comfortable with its “command line.” But I’m keeping an eye on Bing, at least. And as I said in my post on Bing Maps, I’m rooting for Bing to do well–I like the idea of Google having to pay attention to a formidable competitor. You?