Boy, am I glad the ridiculousness of smartphone patent wars hasn’t carried over to web search, because Google’s testing of full page previews illustrates everything that’s great about stealing another company’s ideas.
Some Google users are spotting full page previews today, according to Patrick Altoft at Blogstorm. This allows users to see important content from a website without clicking through to the link. Chunks of text containing search keywords are broken into orange boxes, and the entire page layout is visible from within Google search.
Clearly, Google ripped this feature from Bing, where page previews have been part of search since day one. So what? Bing does it differently, with simple, unobtrusive preview boxes that only draw out a few lines of text and other important details. Sometimes the imitation is better than the original, and sometimes it’s worse, but Google’s and Bing’s desire to differentiate themselves is always reflected in the product.
Page previews aren’t the only example. In June, Google added infinite scrolling to image search, and also improved over Bing with a clean redesign of how images are displayed. Google also added background images on the homepage, and amidst a backlash, had to explain that this was an optional feature, with images temporarily appearing on everyone’s home pages for promotional purposes.
Bing isn’t so innocent either. After Google added streaming music to its search results, Bing did the same, and also included song lyrics and tour information as part of a full-blown Bing Entertainment hub.
The smartphone market is jammed with ongoing lawsuits, among them Microsoft’s recent patent infringement claim against Motorola. But I don’t think anyone would argue that you can’t tell an Android phone from a Windows phone from an iPhone. Likewise, Google and Bing may lift features from one another, but each service still looks pretty distinct to me. More importantly, we’re getting new and better features as each company tries to one-up the other. That’s not really stealing or copying; that’s progress.