Microsoft Again Says It Will Beat Google In Six Months, Then Recants

Last week, the president of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa Neil
Holloway put down a new timetable for beating Google on the relevancy front —
six months. Sound familiar? "Gates
Dings Google, Yet Fails To Impress On Search Himself
" from me in January
highlights similar promises we’ve heard from higher in the Microsoft executive
food chain, including a specific six month promise that Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer made last June. Since that timeframe came and past, why on earth is
Microsoft setting themselves up like this again? For the record, Microsoft
claims Holloway was misinterpreted. I’m not buying it.

Here’s one of the original

articles
citing him, from Reuters:

"What we’re saying is that in six months’ time we’ll be more relevant in the
U.S. market place than Google," said Neil Holloway, Microsoft president for
Europe, Middle East and Africa.

"The quality of our search and the relevance of our search from a solution
perspective to the consumer will be more relevant," he told the Reuters Global
Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit.

Holloway then
spins
in comments on John Battelle’s blogs that he was
misquoted/misinterpreted/misunderstood:

Unfortunately, the comments attributed to me do not give an accurate
reflection on a long and detailed discussion and I would like to set the
record straight. I did not say that we would be ‘twice as good as Google’.
What I did say is that we are committed to investing in R&D aimed at providing
a search service, initially in the US in six months, that performs better than
the current industry wide standard of one in two urls being connected to the
subject of the original query. I also said that our aim is to perform as good,
or better, in that respect than Google. This is a long term goal. I did not
put a date to it as this is work in progress.

OK, the Reuters article didn’t have him saying that Microsoft would be "twice
as good" as Google. It has him specifically saying that Microsoft would be more
relevant to some unnamed degree than Google within six months.

So what about that six month claim? I have no doubt he said it and meant it
exactly as it sounds in the Reuters article. That’s because we’ve heard it
before. As I covered in the aforementioned "Gates
Dings Google, Yet Fails To Impress On Search Himself
" article, Ballmer
previously said:

In the next six months, we’ll catch Google in terms of relevancy.

After saying that (over six months ago), no one quickly stepped up to correct
Ballmer’s comment has being misunderstood. Heck, a few months later, Microsoft
chairman Bill Gates just added to expectations in
saying:

In a very short period of time, we will actually have more than matched the
kind of relevance that Google can deliver.

What’s happening is that Microsoft has an outdated PR hymn book. Ballmer and
Gates have been singing from it already, and Holloway simply was in the
unfortunate position of being told to sing along without also being informed
that the material is outdated and off-key.

Need some further proof? Holloway was also quoted in the Reuters article as
saying this:

"Generally these days what you get back is URLs, and based upon research 50
percent of the time you do a search you don’t get the URL you’re looking for,"
he said.

Yep, this would be the same fact we were told when Microsoft announced plans
to develop its own search technology back in July 2003. As I
quoted
Microsoft back then:

"As we’ve taken close look at search, we’ve asked, how can we improve the
experience? Across the board, about 50 to 70 percent of queries go unanswered.
That indicates to us that there’s a lot of growth yet to come in the search
category," said Gurry, who explained that the high failure rate is based on
Microsoft’s own internal research. "We’ve felt we should really develop our
own [crawler-based] search engine to try and solve this problem."

That was over two years ago, and this fact has continued to be used as a
speaking/selling point.

Hey, I don’t disagree that search has a long way to develop. I’m sure
Microsoft will continue to grow and create a great search engine. But trotting
out the same pitch — and now trying to rollback that pitch when it’s not
believed — isn’t the way to win public support. Skip the promises; focus on the
deliverables.

As for the MSN Search team itself, it’s also jumped into the fray with its
own
statement
, and one that’s more reasonable:

We believe that search is in its infancy. We believe there is massive
opportunity to improve every aspect of the search experience including: basic
web relevancy, new types of media, refining and interacting with your results,
leveraging search server infrastructure to provide new services that were
never before imagined, and so much more. We are committed to building the
world?s best search engine which helps you get your answers as quickly as
possible ? and we are excited to spend many years continuing to innovate on
our customer?s behalf…

…That said, we won?t try to predict the progress of our competitors and
so we won’t forecast when we might take the lead, but this is a long term game
and we are committed to helping drive the next wave of innovation in search
for our customers.

Now let’s see if the hymn book changes for the Microsoft execs out there.

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