Them’s fightin’ words

February 04, 2011

As you have certainly heard, earlier this week Google accused Microsoft’s search engine Bing of copying its results.

The fact that Google (which held more than 70% of the search engine market in the US in August of 2010) and Bing (who held less than 10% of this market) would be going at it head to head again is nothing new. The two are known for their frequent patent violation accusations and various other allegations against one another. What is new, and makes this latest rift VERY exciting, is how bluntly these accusations are being made. On Twitter, Facebook as well as each company’s respective (not to mention popular) blogs, accusations of lying, cheating and deceit are rampant and it is no longer “for your eyes only”.

A trap is set
With suspicions about its latest rival, search engine giant Google went hunting, so of speak. Google set up fake results on their Website for some very improbable search terms. Search results were fabricated by Google for 100 or so honey pot terms (e.g.: hiybbprqag).

Well, the prey took the bait. Within a few weeks, Google’s fake results began to be displayed in Bing in corrected form. It looked as though Bing was recycling Google’s search results and Google was quick to openly point the finger at Bing.

Ranking algorithms
Since every company designs, develops and maintains their own search algorithm, it using a competitors’ results as an additional signal within your own algorithm would be considered an extremely poor practice. The ranking algorithms incorporate thousands of signals and features in order to bring us the results for the keyword we are searching on. The quality of the search results are directly related to the quality of the mathematical code making up the algorithm. This is certainly well worth fighting over, perhaps even stealing.

Bing and Google
Although initially, Bing did not refute “borrowing” Google results when generating its own results, Bing was quick to mention that Google results were one tiny factor amongst countless others. Common practice is for companies to gather anonymous web users’ navigation trends from users who accept to be tracked. This collective information is used by internet companies to make the Web a better experience for all users.

Bing essentially labelled Google’s sting as a “stunt” which would only impact extremely bizarre search terms and claimed the ploy as an indirect form of praise from the search engine giant.

Microsoft speaks out
In the news, at conferences and in blogs, Bing is firmly stating they are not copying search results from anyone and that it is an insult to all the “guys and gals” employed at Microsoft, to claim otherwise. It seems that this time Google and Bing plan to do battle in the public eye and this fight is likely long from over.

To quote Winston Churchill: “[…]We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Happy and safe searching!

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