What’s the future for Bing?

Great technology but poor sales

Better than VHS but not sufficiently superior

A friend of mine who works for Microsoft suggested to me that I should try the company’s search engine, Bing.

I’d already done this, as I had with Chrome, and other recent innovations. There is nothing wrong with Bing, but I still use Mozilla’s Firefox which runs on Google and, occasionally, AltaVista when I need the help of Babel Fish.

Actually, I can’t really see much difference between Bing and Google, and would probably be using Bing regularly had it been launched first. But it wasn’t. And there was good reason for that.

Microsoft’s principal market was software, not internet advertising revenues. It was, and still is, the world leader in both office and home applications, and the company, not unreasonably, was more preoccupied with software development than with online search.

It took the arrival of  Google to make Microsoft have a good look at the online market. Initially, its ownership of Hotmail and MSN looked like an opportunity to generate significant advertising revenue, but the company took its time to decide how to tackle the market, and wasted time as it went through Windows Live Search and Live Search in the process, before coming up with Bing.

By the time it fully launched Bing in May 2009, Google pretty much owned the global market. In January this year, Bing, Yahoo and Google had 94.66% of the world’s volume of queries, as measured by Net Applications.

However, Bing’s share is 3.16%, Yahoo’s is 6.15%, and Google’s is 85.35%. In the UK, if you add together both Google.co.uk and Google.com searches, its share of query volume is more or less 90%.

This is a mountain for Bing to climb.

At the top of this page is a photo of a V2000 VCR. It was developed by Philips and Grundig, and was launched in 1979. All the product reviews said it was better than both VHS and Betamax, but it didn’t sell, and was withdrawn in 1988. The machine was a little more expensive than VHS players, but all the early adopters, who are usually happy to pay a premium, already had a VCR. The V2000 was definitely a superior machine, but not sufficiently superior to provoke VCR users into buying one. VHS was good enough for the job.

Web users are in that situation now. Google is good enough. What is it about Bing which should make them reconsider their choice of browser? Actually, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to make the change, but even Microsoft struggles to define one specific big selling proposition which might convince people to make the change. The truth is that Google is good enough.

Where people have been changing their behaviour is elsewhere, and it is called social networking. Google’s threats are not from Bing. They’re from Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, and all the other systems which allow people to live a substantial part of their social lives on the net. I don’t see Bing being left to die – it also runs Yahoo’s search engine – but it will need to have something simple, significant and new to tell net users which makes them think that Google possibly is no longer good enough. And that is probably going to require some significant innovation in social networking.