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Can 20 folks Make Bing? Nah.

By - July 15, 2009

Since vacation last week I’ve been on the road constantly, and unable to find much time to write. But this NYT Op Ed, by Robert Cringely, caught my eye, as it addresses something I’ve been watching closely for some time – the competition between Microsoft and Google. Clearly the two giants are circling each other’s core revenue streams – Google announced a vapor competitor to Windows last week, and Bing is Microsoft’s answer to Google search. (Disclosure: Both companies have sponsored this site in the past, and Bing is sponsoring it now (see BingTweets), and both companies work with FM, my business). google-windows_1439540c.jpg (image credit)

So it makes sense that there’d be a fair amount of speculation on what it all means. But Cringely’s take, validated as it was in the pages of the Times, struck me as worthy of thinking through. In it he argues:

This is all heady stuff and good for lots of press, but in the end none of this is likely to make a real difference for either company or, indeed, for consumers. It’s just noise — a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.

I don’t agree, to a point. I think it’s true that outside of core search and advertising platforms, Google tends to throw a lot of pasta at the wall, in the hopes that some of it will stick. But Google is dead serious about cloud computing, and I very much doubt they’ll abandon Chrome OS. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the team behind Bing, and I think Microsoft is equally serious about this effort.

Cringely continues:

What Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, has to fear more than anything else is that he’ll awake one day to learn that the Google search engine suddenly doesn’t work on any Windows computers: something happened overnight and what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. It would have to be an act of deliberate sabotage on Microsoft’s part and blatantly illegal, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

The idea that Microsoft would do such a thing strikes me as patently ludicrous. Microsoft has learned its lesson with the DOJ, and it’s not going to run down that alley again. I am certain there are many other things about the company that keep Eric Schmidt up at night, but this is not one of them.

Cringely continues with what struck me as a very misinformed statement:

The engineering teams for any of these products are, at most, 20 to 30 people….Bing hasn’t a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it.

Wow! Did Microsoft really make Bing with a team of 20-30 folks?! And Microsoft is just doing Bing to keep Google on its toes?! I had to ask. Here’s Microsoft’s official response: “This is inaccurate. The Search and Advertising platform engineering team is in the thousands…(and) We are in the business to succeed long term.”

Now, success doesn’t have to be toppling Google, I think Microsoft would settle for gaining five to ten points of share this year, and continuing to show share gain over the next few years. The company posted some examples of early success earlier this week, and while Bing has its detractors, it’s clear the new engine has had a pretty successful initial launch. It remains to be seen if that momentum can continue, and if the concept of search as an application can scale.  

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17 thoughts on “Can 20 folks Make Bing? Nah.

  1. Devin Reams says:

    Good points, John.

    Now, success doesn’t have to be toppling Google…

    I thought the same when SAI called Bing’s . This race is not a sprint; a steady gain is a success in my book.

    But, it’s 2009 and we’re still going to Bob for forward-thinking technology insight? Sensationalist is the name of the game here and I’m sure you have better op-eds to respond to. ;)

  2. Chris Tolles says:

    John:

    How big was the core team at Google in 1999, when we put it up on Netscape as the primary fall through search provider (instead of Inktomi or Altavista)?

    Not much more than 20, if that.

    Just saying it’s funny that a “team of thousands” would be the key talking point here, and that MSFT would be so eager to show that they are willing to bear any burden and pay any price, instead of saying “hey, we’ve got these 10 guys, and they just rock. We’ll put the resources on this, don’t worry”.

  3. exGoogle-r says:

    Each feature team is about that size, but there are many teams (yes, each person can be on more than one team simultaneously).

    I don’t think he meant that the total team-size was 20. Reading it closely, I think he is correct, but its poor sentence-structure (as are many of my sentences, too).

  4. Mark Johnson says:

    The statement about engineers is ridiculously misinformed. The Powerset team alone is about 60 people and we are just a small part of the larger engineering organization. As I noted when we launched, I’m really proud of Bing as a product and stoked about the progress we’ll make over the next year.

    -Mark Johnson, One of Bing’s many Program Managers

  5. TS says:

    If Cringely really believes that Bing was built by 20 people, then he is clueless. Takes a lot more people to build and run a competitive search engine nowadays, due to feature bloat (both features as in “user options” and features as in “features used during crawling, indexing, ranking that improve results but are not directly seen by the user”).

    Chris: 10 years ago this was possible, but not anymore. This was one of the reasons for Google’s success, that is came at the right time, and thus was able to take over with a fairly small team. Now, the bar is much higher, at least in the major markets.

  6. Lee Baler says:

    Can we admit that Bing has been really effective at taking Yahoo out of the conversation. All the discussion has been around the #3 search engine vs the #1 search engine. Maybe Yahoo is thinking this is just another big ad campaign that will blow over like the Ask.com efforts but they’ve been too quiet at a time they claim to be trying to reestablish themselves.

  7. Colin says:

    Lee, perhaps Yahoo is being quiet because they don’t want to challange Bing’s momentum. They lost something like .5% of their search share to Bing last month, leaving them with still almost 20% of search without trying. If I were planning to sell Yahoo Search to Microsoft, the last thing I’d do is go around trying to attack Bing because they might eventually claw Yahoo down from 20% of search to 19% of search.

    Better to let them gather their little bit of momentum so they honestly feel it is worth their while to buy Yahoo Search for some real money. Why risk making their inverstors dislike search, or their directors see it as a lost cause if you plan to sell some more to them? Certainly 1 or 2% of total search is hardly worth making them less likely to deal, all at the cost of Yahoo having to try to outgun a $100 million ad campaign.

  8. AJ says:

    Here’s a scenario how MSFT could nuke GOOG overnight: issue a patch to MSIE which fixes a problem, but in the process, breaks something that prevents Gogole’s page from either loading (via a broken DNS) or some quirk in Google’s page. As long as MS can show that the fault lay with Google, it has nothing to fear from USDOJ. Even if it breaks for a few days, it’ll be enough to take the shine off Google.

  9. AJ says:

    Here’s a scenario how MSFT could nuke GOOG overnight: issue a patch to MSIE which fixes a problem, but in the process, breaks something that prevents Gogole’s page from either loading (via a broken DNS) or some quirk in Google’s page. As long as MS can show that the fault lay with Google, it has nothing to fear from USDOJ. Even if it breaks for a few days, it’ll be enough to take the shine off Google.

  10. Tom Nocera says:

    Simply put, Bing has elevated search to a higher level. It has implemented what I have termed a “whole brain approach” to search on its well- advertised website.

    Bing’s visual styling is so appealing. It makes going to Bing a more interesting, more engaging experience. At the same time it playfully stimulates the imagination.

    As for the search results, I sure like how Bing, without fail, finds my websites, when Google, for some unknown reason, could not.

    Certainly Google will not give up its lion’s share of search without a fight. I see The Whole Damn Net and all of its citizens gaining from the competition.

  11. Search market share as measured by number of queries performed is meaningless. No one pays for page views and Microsoft should not care less about how many page views Google serves visitors (most of them are for its own content anyway).

    This is really about the advertising revenue and that comes from the clicks on the ads, not the number of times a rank-checking query is performed.

    People can use Google as a calculator. Microsoft wants people to use them to buy computers.

    It’s as simple as that. Microsoft is running in a very solid second place behind Google in terms of the number of people who visit search engines, but what we all need to know in order to make knowledgeable assessments of the search industry is how many visitors they send to other sites and what the click-through rates on their advertisements are.

    Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

  12. sikiş says:

    MSIE which fixes a problem, but in the process, breaks something that prevents Gogole’s page from either loading (via a broken DNS) or some quirk in Google’s page. As long as MS can show that the fault lay with Google, it has nothing to fear from USDOJ. Even if it breaks for a few days, it’ll be enough to take the shine off Google.

  13. Adrian says:

    Very interesting article. Competition is always good, this will ensure Google continues to improve, to keep ahead. Bing looks impressive….my the best search engine win!!

  14. seks izle says:

    think it’s true that outside of core search and advertising platforms, Google tends to throw a lot of pasta at the wall, in the hopes that some of it will stick. But Google is dead serious about cloud computing

  15. sikiş says:

    Gogole’s page from either loading (via a broken DNS) or some quirk in Google’s page. As long as MS can show that the fault lay with Google, it has nothing to fear from USDOJ. Even if it breaks for a few days, it’ll be enough to take the shine off Google.

  16. Tom Nocera says:

    John,
    Kara Swisher is reporting that Yahoo!’s CEO, Carol Bartz, in reply to an analyst’s question about her thoughts on Bing:

    Bartz: “I think actually Bing is a good product,” said Bartz. “I think they’ve done a good job. I think Microsoft should be given kudos for Bing.”

    Sure, it’s diplomatic to say that. But, it is also true. Kudos to Carol for her straightforward assessment of Bing.

  17. Do any of you old folks remember Bing Crosby?