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Microsoft Lost Search War By Ignoring the Long Tail 267

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-wonder-if-it's-prehensile dept.
Art3x writes "When developing search engine technology, Microsoft focused on returning good results for popular queries but ignored the minor ones. 'It turned out the long tail was much more important,' said Bing's Yusuf Mehdi. 'One-third of queries that show up on Bing, it's the first time we've ever seen that query.' Yet the long tail is what makes most of Google's money. Microsoft is so far behind now that they won't crush Google, but they hope to live side by side, with Bing specializing in transactions like plane tickets, said Bing Director Stefan Weitz."
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Microsoft Lost Search War By Ignoring the Long Tail

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2010 @09:42AM (#31646862)
    I just tried that exact search on Bing. Cache, cookies, etc all freshly cleared (literally right before I put the query into the search window). First result: Why are Mac's So Expensive? - Yahoo! Answers
  • MapReduce Thinking? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by segedunum (883035) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @09:48AM (#31646898)
    I was just thinking about the role MapReduce plays in all of this search malarky, and then I came across a telling Joel Spolsky post from a few years ago: []

    "The very fact that Google invented MapReduce, and Microsoft didn't, says something about why Microsoft is still playing catch up trying to get basic search features to work, while Google has moved on to the next problem: building Skynet^H^H^H^H^H^H the world's largest massively parallel supercomputer. I don't think Microsoft completely understands just how far behind they are on that wave."

    Perhaps Microsoft just cannot think like that? To be clear, Microsoft saying that maybe Google and Bing can perhaps exist side-by-side is a clear admission of defeat. Microsoft never says that, so you know the situation is bad. I just can't understand why they got a bee in their bonnet and wanted to chase Google in the way that they have. It was clearly a knee-jerk thing and they hadn't clearly thought about it. The only major difference they did was change the name from the stale MSN Search name to something they thought was cooler - Bing. Nothing else changed.

    To not take into account that people search for many random and obscure things put together that won't have been recorded before (language is a very broad thing and what people search for is also time-based i.e. NOW), and not to have some sort of logic to aid with that, is utterly unforgiveable. What the hell are Microsoft Research doing?

  • by astrashe (7452) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @09:50AM (#31646914) Journal

    I don't think Bing will ever out-Google Google. So it's strange that they don't try to identify problems with Google and address them. They seem to start out with the assumption that Google is perfect, so the best path forward is to do everything just like Google, only more so.

    The big problem with Google is privacy. Why not try to make a search engine that doesn't track what you do? I'd pay a subscription for such a thing. Maybe most people wouldn't, but I would. Search is such a big market that 5% of it is still huge. Maybe 5% of the people in the US would pay for private searching.

    MS has had a kind of bullying culture for a long time, and they've declared war on open source, so we've viewed them as the bad guys for a long time. But windows is a heck of a lot more open than the iPad, and their business model isn't based on data mining. In a lot of ways, they've been left behind by many of the most toxic trends in the industry. They should listen to some of the things that we linux folks have been saying, and try to fit them into their pitch when they can. Talk about the value of controlling your own data, of privacy, of letting anyone who wants to write a program and distribute it, of being able to install your software on whatever hardware you want. That's not snake oil -- it's good stuff.

    The strange thing is that they've missed those toxic trends not because they value the good alternatives, but because they're big and sluggish and not very agile. They've just been left behind. And all they want is to catch up so they can turn the same screws on us that Apple and Google turn. It doesn't occur to them to make the kinds of arguments I'm proposing here.

  • by plankrwf (929870) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @09:51AM (#31646916)

    Sorry, not buying this.
    I am no fan of MS, but typing 'why is windows so expensive' in my search bar on firefox (which defaults to results on gives as FIRST hit a newstory about how this query turns up a query about Apple, the second is about ... Apple.

    Seriously, did you try it with quotes? (No, didn't try it myself).
    Surely, there are more articles on WHY the hardware of APPLE is relatively EXPENSIVE, compared to laptops & pc's which run WINDOWS?

    As long as you do not put "" around the query, I would not put it down to dishonesty.
    (I would expect that the query "why is windows not so expensive" also gives a first hit to Apple?").

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2010 @09:52AM (#31646922)

    you can always try an image search for Bill Gates. The first image returned is his police mugshot

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2010 @09:59AM (#31646950)
    Well, here's a screenshot. I guess it's possible that it's different because I'm Canadian, though it does imply it's not limiting results based on that.

    That's interesting. It absolutely is because you're in Canada. I just tried the same search at (redirects to [] for me) and I got the same results as your screenshot.
  • Re:Same old (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gadget_Guy (627405) * on Sunday March 28, 2010 @10:09AM (#31647000)

    When I first tried Bing I was impressed. The search results pretty spot on, and there wasn't the extra dross that taints Google's results (mostly because people don't know how to game the system yet). It was like Google was when it first started out. However, once I went from my test searches to real world (and more obscure) ones then it would miss the obvious websites.

    It has been an interesting experiment, but when I reinstall my system next week, I will be setting Google as the default again. But I won't remove the Bing entry from my search list, as I still prefer it for image searches.

  • Re:Same old (Score:4, Interesting)

    by crazycheetah (1416001) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @11:38AM (#31647616)

    But what has MS Research given us compared to some of the things Google has gotten us? Overall, I'm very biased. I never liked Windows. I always thought it was counter-intuitive. Linux, on the other hand, just seems very logical and easy, to me. And Google has therefor given me more than I think some Windows users see.

    Nonetheless, now my phone runs Google, too. My browser is now Google--it was Firefox long before that; I think the last time I used IE as my main browser was IE6, for a very short time before I switched over to Linux. My search engine is Google--because Google just has too many things that I haven't even bothered to see if Bing has, which I'm very used to on Google. My e-mail is Google. Many things that I use on a day to day basis have many contributions from Google('s Summer of Code and such).

    There's five--the fifth being more than one, really--reasons for me to think Google has done more for me than MS. Most of those are just negatives from MS. I don't hate MS. But I don't like (most of) their work as much as I like Google's work and several others' work, and I don't really like their tactics and style of business. And why would I want to support a company putting all of this money into research and not showing me as much as several others--many of whom do it for free.

  • by number6x (626555) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @12:23PM (#31647948)

    Performance is comparable to Google, but I get the impression that Bing's results are more skewed for people looking to purchase things on line. Try some basic 'how to' queries (how to caulk a window, how to make pancakes, etc) and see if you get more product related hits returned near the top with Bing than with Google.

    This isn't a criticism, just an observation. It could be a smart thing for MS. It will help them squeeze more advertising dollars out of smaller market share.

    It seems to me that Bing may be a better tool for shopping than Google is, but Google is a better tool for searching than Bing is.

    Bing's problem then becomes that there are several better tools for shopping and comparing prices than Bing offers.

  • Re:Same old (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @12:26PM (#31647988)
    With Bing you can still hone obscure queries with booleans and such, that Google only respects to a degree.

    This is possibly true, but my frustration with Bing (which seems to increase every time I try it) is that most results are blocked by the third-party elements of my fairly extensive hosts file. Now of course, I know I can always disable that, and on occasions I have done so, with results that are usually irrelevant to my query.

    This leaves the impression that having painted itself into a corner of irrelevance, Microsoft seems to be compounding the worthlessness of its search engine by throwing in its lot with known advertisers and distributors of malware.
  • by whisper_jeff (680366) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @12:30PM (#31648028)

    Why not try to make a search engine that doesn't track what you do? I'd pay a subscription for such a thing.

    No you wouldn't. Seriously, let's be real - you absolutely would not pay for a subscription to a search engine.

    And neither would anyone else. Nobody.

    There are simply too many free alternatives out there (Google, Yahoo, Alta Vista, etc., etc., etc.) - only a complete and utter twit who was absolutely new to the internet would pay for a subscription to a search engine.

    If you're going to suggest a business model, at least suggest one that has some vague, remote possibility of being successful.

  • Re:Same old (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @02:26PM (#31649036) Homepage Journal

    Freinds don't let freinds do hotmail. I looked at it a time or two. I also looked at yahoo mail. They just don't compare to Gmail, either in features, attractiveness, or the intrusiveness of advertising.

  • Re:Same old (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @04:31PM (#31650020)

    If you would not be embarrassed about Google releasing the entire contents of your searches over the last two years, I commend you. Also, with IP tracking and the like (which Google does), it is not hard to nail down exactly where you live based on your search information.

    Now, they do "anonymize" their records after two years, but someone was recently tracked down using anonymized data from AOL I think it was. Anonymizing is the stripping away of all personal information from the records, so if they can still find you after doing that, you're screwed.

  • Re:Same old (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2010 @04:55PM (#31650178)

    If the query is sufficiently obscure, Google will ignore stuff like quotes marks and also ignore or reinterpret words despite explicit ANDs.

    I'm not sure you can say there is a problem with booleans as such (and no one really did), as much as it is the general rewriting of search queries.

If God is perfect, why did He create discontinuous functions?