Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A tale of two searches

Google has been notorious for releasing products in Beta. Beta is a software development/marketing term that means a core software product is complete enough to be released to a select group of reviewers and testers. These Beta testers monkey around with the software to achieve many ends: finding errors, ease-of-use and user interface, stress testing, buzz, and so on. You do this just before you release a product to market, on the philosophy that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, who in this case is the software consumer. They don't call it killer app for nothing.

Google News was in Beta for more than three years. I explained to a friend my ideas about how Google is using Beta: lowered expectations (because no Beta is supposed to be perfect), continuous development and feature rollout (more possible with web-served applications like Google Search than desktop applications like Microsoft Word), continuous hype and buzz (Google Widget 221 acquires Sprocket A! stories appear basically every day on Slashdot). Some recent Betas are Google Transit, Google Page Creator, Google Reader, and Google Video.

Anyhow, Microsoft's Google killer is now in Beta. It's called Windows Live, but it felt more like the living dead. It loaded slooooowly because it's a chromed-up web application. And the search results are... interesting. What follows are two web searches; one on Windows Live, one on Google. The search I used was ::letters and papers:: (colons not in the original, no quote marks).

Notice that Microsoft's search puts this blog at number 2, while Google's search puts the book Letters and Papers from Prison first. In fact, this blog hasn't been operating for a year, at least not yet, so I couldn't find myself on the first four or five pages of Google results, which means no one would find this blog with that search. Suspicious... has Microsoft just won another customer?

Ummm. No. I wouldn't use Windows Live for the kind of searching I do: quick, to the point, I needs me my information now. The web page loads too slowly for me to consider it; it does remind me of something else, though. When you sign up for GMail or a GAccount, you get a personal home page with a Google search box and news, weather, highlights and such that you can customize to your heart's content. Google was smart not to make this the de facto gateway to Google Search. I wonder if Windows Live is the de facto gateway to search for Windows Vista.

I also wonder what kind of ranking algorithm Microsoft uses, to put such a new site so near the top of the charts. I smell a rat. Next year, will all the search results go to cleverly tweaked Viagra blogs? Enquiring minds want to know.

If Microsoft wants to beat Google at their own game, this isn't the way to do it.

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