Consumer choice is one of the most important elements of market economies. Yet when it comes to large-scale searches across a market, a surfeit of resources to choose from begins to work against the consumer.
Is a house hunter best served by there being hundreds of estate agents? Or would it be better for both buyers and sellers if there were just one that lists evey available house?
The same question can be asked of job hunting and, very probably, a multiplicity of specialised business situations, too, where the ideal scenario would be for every available X to be listed in just one place.
That’s why aggregator websites for commodities such as car insurance are so popular and successful; we positively like it when our choice is, in a sense, limited. We find the alternative confusing. Which is why one of the UK’s biggest aggregator sites is called Confused.com.
It’s interesting, then, that in internet search, a vast industry that it would be impossible to explain to anyone just a couple of decades ago, the global public has, in effect, awarded monopoly status to one supplier — Google.
It’s as if in our billions, we have accepted the wisdom of such a commodity as search being a natural one-stop-shop option.
Google just is search.
Officially 70 per cent, but in my experience, 100 per cent, of web users rely exclusively on Google. It’s one of that rarefied order of commercial brands that become verbs, such as Hoover, Xerox and Skype.
Businesses are dependent on Google. People meet their partners, buy their houses and choose their holidays all thanks to it. It is hard to understand how secondary players like Ask Jeeves and the rest make a living; it seems positively perverse to most of us to use anything but Google.
The reasons for this extraordinary rise in less than ten years from obscurity to being one of the world’s biggest companies and most respected brands are various.
It’s not just because the global public latched on to Google being streets ahead of other search engines. It happens that it was, but there was more to Google’s rise — something about the name, the brand, the colourful logo or whatever just caught on across boundaries and culture.
The internet is incredibly random, filled with, at a guess, 80-90 per cent misleading rubbish, tendentious information, spurious and irrelevant commercial come-on or stuff that’s just out of date — and 10-20 per cent superb material. We need all the help we can get with locating that good stuff; internet searching is not just an idle pastime — key elements of our lives depend on it.
What, then, is to be made of the Microsoft’s new Bing search engine (bing.com), which was launched in June and in July joined forces with Yahoo? With Microsoft and, now Yahoo, behind it in force, it’s clearly
to be taken seriously. But does Bing make life better or worse for we internet citizens?
Bing is good. Really good. The interface is exceptionally clear, especially for Microsoft who sometime appear to revel in creating on-screen confusion. And, crucially, Bing throws up different results from Google. If you have a vital search to make, it’s probably prudent now to Bing it as well as Google it.
Bing has some lovely features, from the beautiful opening page to the slightly more intuitive (I’ve found, at least) search than Google’s.
UK results only searches on Bing are rather more British than on Google, where all sorts of (to us) useless Americanisms have a habit of popping up.
There’s also a nice time saving feature within Bing; slide your mouse down the side of the listings and you get a useful preview of what lies within, which may save you wasting time clicking on the link. Bing’s mapping is also a treat. Take a look at the feature called Bird’s Eye, which takes Google Earth to another level.
It has to be said that the coming of a credible rival to Google is mixed news — like discovering your town has a second, quite separate, high street that’s not necessarily better than the one you normally frequent, but has significantly different stuff in it.
And the indications are that it’s not yet making much of dent in Google. Bing has accounted for a steady 3 per cent of searches since launch. Google has 69 per cent and China’s Baidu with 9 per cent.
Perhaps that’s why some sceptical web users have already come up with their own explanation for Bing’s name: it is, they joke, an acronym for “But It’s Not Google”.
For more information visit bing.com
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