Yes, I know. B-I-N-G stands for “But it’s not Google.”

Still, lately there’s been something about it. The core of any search engine has to be solid and deliver proper relevancy ranked results of course. And as I’ve been intentionally comparing the two services, I’m still mostly of the belief that Google still has a slight edge in pure quality in terms of results. But increasingly, that might be just barely. And there’s a lot more to search and results and discovery than Ten Blue Links. Google knows this of course. Even their sparse – perhaps austere – user interface has given way to some experimentation lately. I still like Google a lot and it remains my habitual first stop. (And for me, no one’s beaten their Newsreader for simplicity yet.) But it’s good to mix things up a bit. When I used to work at another search startup, my favorite way to express this was, “Sure, Start with Google. But Don’t Stop There.” There’s more than one point of view and a good search deep dive should include multiple engines.

What about the Name? While workers at Google, or “Googlers” probably revel in their affiliation, I’m not sure if the folks at Bing would be happy being called Bingalings. Yet at the same time, there’s something just fun and whimsical about that maybe. I’m sure they spent oodles doing the Brand thinking behind the Bing name. And it was good to see they were smart enough to pick a name that could be a verb. This fun reflects in the service. So, just what is it about Bing that has me visiting more often?

  • Facets: In many ways, both engines have had facets for some time. You could always do a search and scope it to a multimedia object type; such as Images or Video. (Or an arbitrary de facto taxonomic type such as “Web” or “News,” which is an interesting distinction as one could argue “News” is really more of a filter type functionality.) Anyway, I like that Bing gives me Category Filters and  Related Searches on the left side.  (It was always one of my favorite features at Ask.com, which has had this for years.) Even if I don’t use them, they can help with keyword discovery for honing additional queries. The Facets in the Web search are subtle. Maybe because they don’t want to mess too much with core search results. But check out the Facets with the other data types; Images, Video, etc. These are useful. They’re obviously limited to the available metadata,  but with 35.7 Gadzillion Butloads of stuff being added every month, (that’s my official count), any filters you can come up with could be useful.
  • Instant Answers: If I type “Hoboken Weather” into Bing, they’re smart enough to just show me that info. Right there. Pretty little chart and everything. As a pilot weather geek, I’ll often go directly to the Weather Channel or more in depth charts from ADDS and other advanced services. But this is great to just know it’s there for a quick check inline with other search tasks.  Of course, this functionality isn’t limited just to weather; it just happens to be my favorite. (For example, in the hover info when the link is a Wikipedia article, there’s another mini search box to let you launch a search from there. They have a lot of very subtle timesaving things here most users wouldn’t notice. Just seamless.)
  • Extended Preview: When you mouseover a link, an arrow shows up on the right, which you can hover over to get a bit more picture of where you might be going. This feature might not even  be noticeable to all. Which is fine. It’s not in your way. But advanced or frequent users who find value in this function can use it to better gauge expectations before clicking off. Functional modes are one of the most difficult things to design for in user experiences. You want to keep them present for when desired, but not interfere with basic functions if at all possible. (And allow recovery from a mode, etc.) Now, these things aren’t really exactly modal, but they are elegant in the way they  don’t get in the way.
  • Fun: The imagemap functions on the front page are fun. You can wholly ignore them of course. But they put up some beautiful art without getting in the way of the experience. Sometimes though, if you came for a not so critical task and feel like exploring, you can discover some things. One of the problems with our world right now might be lack of discovery. As much of a problem as it is to find what you want sometimes, I think mostly we do. Between search engines and Wikipedia and GPS systems, we don’t get quite as lost. So what we miss is serendipity. Accidental discovery. Bing imbues this into the experience and carries through the image in a masthead background. It’s fun.
  • Others have listed or commented on Bing’s new features. These have just been my favorites. TopuTop has a good list. And of course, there’s the Wikipedia Entry.

I’ve tried some head to head comparison tools like http://www.bing-vs-google.com. The results and relevancy ranking seems very similar in a lot of cases. Try some of your own searches in a tool like this to judge for yourself. In any case, Bing has become good enough that they’ve actually made some headway in terms of market share. Sure, heavy advertising and promotion has helped with that. There’s over 1,000 various alternative search engines and only a handful of majors. To break a Google habit might only be possible through some deep pocketed marketing. But it still comes down to product. Ask.com did a lot of mainstream advertising and barely budged in terms of market share. The only way Bing is sustaining any kind of market share growth has to be through some users either converting, or at least sharing the search love a bit.

Anyway you slice it, who’d have thunk 10 – 15 years ago that Microsoft would be the underdog. Here’s more About Bing from Microsoft.