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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Happy Birthday, Bing: Microsoft’s “Decision Machine” turns 10

Ten years ago Microsoft's "Decision Machine", Bing went online and challenged Google. But would users actually binge or continue to google?

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Kamal Saini
Kamal S. has been Journalist and Writer for Business, Hardware and Gadgets at Revyuh.com since 2018. He deals with B2b, Funding, Blockchain, Law, IT security, privacy, surveillance, digital self-defense and network policy. As part of his studies of political science, sociology and law, he researched the impact of technology on human coexistence. Email: kamal (at) revyuh (dot) com

For a long time, Bing was, above all, the weird surname of Chandler, a character from Friends who loves sarcastic comments. Then came a new search engine that was named Bing, not Chandler. Internally, the developers called Bing kumo; this is Japanese for spider and cloud (Cloud!). The small web crawlers of the search engines crawl like animals through the net in search of websites. In the end, Kumo was called Bing, because that sounds good. Bing: That sounds like a “moment of discovery,” the Bing blog commented on the upcoming Bing launch.

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That’s ten years ago: Bing went online on June 1, 2009, a few days early, but Microsoft was probably impatient, and finally wanted to start using Google. The full version with all functions, there were initially only in the US, and later in the other countries. (Alone in the UK version, for example, initially 60 developers were involved.)

Bing is the successor to Windows Live Search, but never had the greatest success. That was going to be different with Bing, so Microsoft launched a major US advertising campaign with online and print ads and TV commercials. They should make people the new search engine tasty and start catching up on Google.

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The new name of the search engine was short, easy to remember and worked worldwide. Microsoft “has never confirmed that the name stands for Bing Is Not Google, but that’s such a joke developers like,” Jack Schofield wrote in the Guardian launching Bing. The computer editor, however, was somewhat skeptical about Bing’s market opportunities: “I doubt Bing will let Yahoo overtake Google, let alone Google.” After all, innovation would do the search engine market well, competition revives the business. (And you can tell how long 10 years can be: Who still talks about Yahoo today?).

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Bing offered users many interesting features and became a vehicle for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Open Programming Interfaces (APIs) delighted those involved in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Also for research purposes, the API of Bing is very valuable, says “Search Scientist” Russ Jones.

Bing wanted to be a “decision making machine” that helps, for example, in vacation research or when buying TVs, computers and whatnot. Bing answered individual questions directly: Anyone who typed a flight number into the search field immediately got up-to-date flight information. “The search capabilities for images and videos are among the strengths of Bing,” wrote c’t editor Jo Bager on 2 June 2009 in his first impression. All in all, Bing convinces with good results and useful functions.

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Microsoft’s claim was and is to deliver more relevant and refined content than the competition with Bing. The competition was and is of course: Google. Those who challenge this Goliath have a hard time, many have failed, such as the ambitious challenger Cuil. He wanted to outdo Google 2008, but went offline two years later – and fell into complete oblivion. No one wanted to “cuile”, all googled. Would people also “bang”?

In any case, Bing never wanted to be in the niche, but also wanted to beat Google. Microsoft invested a lot of money in marketing and development – quite successfully, the efforts were fruitful. Already in 2010 Bing belonged to the three most visited search engines. This was followed by cooperation with, for example, Yahoo, which took over results from Bing in the summer of 2010 and shut down its own index. (Even today, Bing fills Yahoo’s search results pages.) Bing also worked with Ecosia, Facebook, and Baidu, and made a deal with Firefox. The browser appeared in a version in which Bing Google replaced as a default search engine. (In the normal version, Google is the default search engine.)

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Bing was very brave – but could the search engine displace Google, or at least become dangerous? Not really. Although it ran better than the predecessors of Bing, which Microsoft could never score with the users. But against Google’s clear dominance Bing could not do much worldwide. After all, the search engine quickly gained in popularity in the US and reached a double-digit market share of 14.1 percent (ComScore). Bing was never really relevant, but many saw in the offer only a cheap Google copy. Today, the market share in the US is around 10 to 11 percent, while Yahoo boggles around 5 to 6 percent. Undisputed number one is Google with 82 to 83 percent. That’s not good for diversity.

There is no standstill at Bing, for example in 2012 there was a major redesign. At the end of 2017, Microsoft announced that Bing would look smarter in the future: Thanks Artificial Intelligence (AI), the search engine should respond more quickly and provide more comprehensive information. The interaction with Bing should also be more natural. For example, Bing knows that a piece of pizza has 137 kilocalories and that pleasure-seekers have to jog 11 minutes to get rid of them. The users in Germany had to wait but once again: The new, smart features were initially only available in the English version.

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Bing recently came under criticism when a study revealed that the search engine not only displayed images of child sexual abuse – but even suggested it as an alternative for certain submissions. The clever technology had failed, in particular the automated filter technology PhotoDNA, which has been used for many years by many large platforms. Microsoft took immediate action to prevent similar violations in the future – a major challenge that remains.

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There was also criticism because Bing censored the search results in China, thus observing the requirements of the Chinese government. “Is good business more important to a Western company than human rights?” Asked the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In principle, China blocks all Google services that do not want to comply with censorship requirements, as well as various social networks such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or WhatsApp.

“Just as I say that we welcome PC competition, I am sure that the market leader in search will also welcome the competition,” said Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer at the time, according to Gizmodo. One would like to deliver the competition, he added. Bing is actually more successful than others in an area where competition is strong. In addition, the search engine is only one of many Microsoft products, so has fewer resources than Google.

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But whether the search giant Bing classifies as a serious competitor? It seems a little bit desperate that Bing even rewards his users when researching with Bing. The “Microsoft Rewards” program awards points to “every search with Bing” and hosts raffles as thanks. Anyway, Bing will stay awhile, evolve and get better. But it’s still a long way to number one.

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