So, full disclosure, this is an opinion piece. Fight me. I’ll be at the bike racks after school. Or you could just leave a spirited comment.
Microsoft screwed up last week– or at least almost did. The plan was to deploy a Google Chrome plugin as part of the Office 365 monthly update to the Office Suite this week. This plugin’s purpose was to change the default search engine in Chrome from Google Search to Microsoft’s own Bing.
This means that if you were a Microsoft Office 365 customer, and used Google Chrome, when you searched from the address bar, Bing would answer the call.
You could still go to www.google.com and search your Google-y heart out.
There was much online vitriol about Microsoft’s evil antics. The internet accused them of imposing an unwanted configuration on users without any choice. They said it was about propping up a dead product by clawing marketshare from Google.
They said lots of things. And by and large, the critics were right. It was a stupid idea. Kneeling to the pressure, Microsoft walked back the decision to deploy this toolbar. It’ll eventually come back, but it will be an optional configuration. Hopefully.
We’ll likely say no to that.
Here’s the rub though:
We have to be careful about technology bias in situations such as this. It seemed obvious to the entire IT community that foisting Bing on people was a bad idea. Folks assumed that Microsoft was operating in bad faith. Maybe they were. Dunno. I wasn’t in the room when this plan was cooked up.
The problem lies with the words ‘obvious’ and ‘assumed’. They are free-passes on critical thinking. They are shortcuts.
We’re often forced to make quick decisions based on sage experience and tuned intuition. If we had to analyse every decision, we’d have cognitive fatigue. That’s why we have a separation between the emotional and logical parts of our brain. So we can make gut decisions by feel. It’s faster and on the whole, accurate. It’s the same reason why you should answer multiple choice questions with your first-impulse answer and also why changing them on a read-through afterwards often backfires.
We rely on instinct.
But instinct is rife with bias. The same super-power of lived experience that drives intuition contains the biases of that same lived experience.
Is Bing a terrible search engine? My gut says it is. It’s almost visceral. And with 92% market share in favour of Google Search, I’d wager that most peeps agree.
But is Bing objectively bad?
Yeah, it is. Probably. It doesn’t return as many results. This is largely because of the network effect— may admins optimize their websites for Google exclusively. With under 3% marketshare, it isn’t worth the effort to optimize for Bing. But that approach, in turn, makes Bing less useful. And the cycle of terribleness continues. Lots of gut-decisions at play here.
Being top dog is great. But top dogs can stifle innovation.
What if Bing was actually good?
Microsoft has three main search engines in the consumer space:
- Bing Search for searching the interwebs
- Windows Search for searching your computer
- Microsoft Search for searching Office 365
Integrating these search products isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. Microsoft has been trying to get this right on the Windows 10 desktop for years and two weeks ago broke it in an update. It’s since been fixed. Searching from the taskbar returns results from the computer and the web using Bing. They can’t achieve that level of integration with Google.
If you’re logged into Bing with your Office 365 credentials, then a Bing search will also return results from your Office 365 environment. Integration between Bing Search and Microsoft Search is a pretty obvious thing to do. Again, doing that with Google would be nigh on impossible and downright horrific even if it was.
Because Google and Microsoft have different business models for search. Google’s entire reason for being is predicated on revenue from two sources: intelligent advertising and data mining. Microsoft’s driving motivator is investing you in their ecosystem to pay subscription licensing. As with most things, follow the money.
Will Microsoft get it right? Will unifying search pay off for Office 365 customers? Most certainly. Someday.
But that day is not today.