Last week, Google's Inside Search blog announced a recap of 30 different search quality improvements it made in December, 21 of which were improvements that were specifically new to Google. However, looking through the list, it seems that some of these "new" features are nothing new to search engines in general. In fact, Bing has had many of these features for quite some time. Let's look at a few.
For quite sometime, Bing has been about actionable, task-oriented results. Their slogan "Bing and Decide" explains it succinctly. Starting with innovations launched about a year ago at SES New York, Bing was changing their search engine results pages (SERP) from 10 blue links to more useable results that help their users discover actions that help make decisions.
One of Google's new enhancements, codenamed "Live Results," was the addition of live results and standings for NFL and college football games, pulled from ESPN and NCAA results. Interestingly, Bing has had these results since it was known as Microsoft Live Search back in 2009 (Live Search became Bing June 3, 2009).
Google's answer to better lyrics results, codenamed "Contra," was introduced by Bing in June 2010. Bing enhanced the lyrics results further by providing links to purchasing songs on iTunes, Amazon's MP3 store and Zune.com. They also offered one free play of every song in the Microsoft Zune library.
Google's places panel was a newly released update to provide upcoming events at major venues. Again, this appears to be a subtle feature lift from Bing Destination Pages, launched December, 2010. Sure Bing Destinations shows local events, but it also shows popular attractions, local news, civic photos, weather overviews, hotels and more, in one result page.
Social results have also been a hot topic this week. After unrolling Search Plus Your World, many Internet pundits voiced their criticisms. Even gadget blog Gizmodo knocked Google for the change. By fundamentally changing how their results are biased by Google+, Gizmodo suggests that Google has, by default, made Bing the better engine.
These are merely a handful of examples. By my estimates, Bing beat Google to the punch on recipe search, infinite scrolling on image search, rich snippet inclusion, flight results, indoor maps, Twitter search updates and other social results such as Facebook integration.
Does Being First Equate to Being Better?
Not necessarily. However, with major anti-trust investigations and seemingly even more favoritism being shown to Google+ results in SERPs, you have to wonder if Bing is doing it right. They've chosen to partner with sites like OpenTable and FanSnap, while Google's approach seems more like the Borg. They conquer and assimilate. When that fails, they make their own (Google Offers, anyone?).
Perhaps most interesting is that it has been a year since Google created a stink, accusing Bing of copying their results with an elaborate sting operation. An incident which was facilitated by Google manually manipulating their results.
For a company that has gone out of their way to accuse the competition of trying to copy, Google's latest features seem like nothing more than keeping up with the Joneses.
This time last year, I postulated that Bing needed to stop playing catch-up and innovate better ideas to to stay relevant in 2011 and beyond. In retrospect, perhaps the shoe is has actually been on the other foot and, in fact, Bing deserves more credit for driving search quality forward by innovating the user experience with these types of task-oriented search features.