Blog Post

Inside Word: Bing Is ‘Dumbing Down’ Search

The Inside Word is a weekly feature that looks at compelling industry debates and discussions unfolding on the blogs of employees at digital-media companies.

Blogger: Martha Sperry

Position: Sperry is an attorney and manager of Advantage Advocates, which provides editing and marketing services — online and offline — to high-net-worth insurance and financial-industry clients.

Blog name: Advocate’s Studio, which is aimed at attorneys who want to use tools like search and social media to help their practices

Backstory: Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) rolled out yet another update to Bing this week, which adds “entity cards” for some common queries that include basic data automatically pulled from third-party sources. (A search for “Harvard College,” for instance, would include a box of information on the university, including its location and acceptance rate, above the regular results.) This follows other Bing initiatives that have streamlined search results; search for “UPS” in Bing, for instance, and only a listing for the UPS website shows up among the results.

Blog post: While Microsoft believes that efforts like “entity cards” get searchers the results they want faster, Sperry argues that people in some professions, like the law, have a deep interest in the original sources of information, and that Bing’s new approach can deprive them of that.

“From canned ‘cards’ prepared by Bing-heads for frequently searched topics to answers pulled directly from Wikipedia, searchers can easily ‘click and run’ with their answers on Bing,” she writes. “Google (NSDQ: GOOG), concededly, requires a bit more effort. But Google offers the opportunity to view many different answers to a particular query and weigh the results based on the strength of the site from which the information is pulled.

“I definitely see a place for both strategies in the search arena. But … searchers need to be cognizant of what they are getting and consider when the extra effort is necessary … I sincerely hope that Google does not bow to the peer pressure and ‘dumb down’ search. I still get a pitter-patter in my heart when I see services like Wolfram/Alpha and the various semantic-search tools providing yet another angle on the information. Because, as we all know, rarely is there one single true answer to any question, even to the query, ‘how do I get from Gloucester to Boston?'”

Post-script: In a follow-up, I asked Sperry what Google should do, instead of following in Bing’s heels. Her response: “The smart move would be to offer those ‘quick’ answers alongside the more traditional list of results. I think Google prizes itself on being ‘smart’ and ‘technical,’ as its recent addition of legal case law to Google Scholar Advanced Search shows, and hope that this translates in keeping some measure of its traditional search available to those seeking something a wee bit more than the quick canned blurb.”

We should get a better sense on Monday, when Google is holding a media event, during which it says it will

3 Responses to “Inside Word: Bing Is ‘Dumbing Down’ Search”

  1. larryolsen

    Google is evil. It just screwed and replaced it with a Google dictionary that is worse. Google has also created some stupid alternative to Wikipedia. it screws authors. Its screws newspaper publisher. Google is a thief in sheep’s clothing.

  2. I don’t get the point of this article. Google has approx 13% of it’s results where supplies an answer in the top 3 or so positions. Beyond the dominance of wikipedia in a lot of results, Google does the exact same thing as bing in commercial searches for local businesses, mortgages and other items.

    Bing is essentially removing the “click-through” to wikipedia, which _may_ in fact insure the user actually looks at more sources in the results as opposed to clicking through and reading only wikipedia.

    Without actual statistically significant behavioral results, both the author and the “expert” are guessing about the total effect on user behavior.

  3. Article title seems a bit harsh here. I wonder if we're really talking about a difference in user interface, rather than functionality per se.

    In the Harvard College example, for example, clicking "See more results" under the initial five selections seems to return a list similar to a typical, uncategorized Google search. I don't see that Bing is necessarily depriving power users of the opportunity "to view many different answers to a particular query and weigh the results based on the strength of the site from which the information is pulled." They've just decided to require an extra click to get there, in order to present a first screen of results that they think might be relevant to their audience.