Two Search Engines Diverged in a Crowded Internet: Updates from Google and Bing

Those of us who went to school in the United States inevitably ended up reading “The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost and the famous opening line “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” For those familiar with the poem, you might be wondering what it has to do with the recent updates from Google and Bing. After scrutinizing the two directions the search giants have taken, it is obvious to me that they have brilliantly started down wildly divergent paths that we all take very often.

Going Deep: Google’s Knowledge Graph
Google has invested a lot of time and money in something really cool (as usual). If you ask Larry Page what Google is going to be building out every year, he is usually going to answer “search.” This year, it has made countless updates to its search product, but perhaps the most intriguing and useful is what it has deemed “The Knowledge Graph.”

Google has been appending search data with additional information for quite some time now, most obviously with the Search Plus Your World (SPYW) update. Google has now added another layer of intelligence to its search algorithm: human intelligence and the relationship between pieces of knowledge. Imagine a giant web of pieces of human knowledge that live in Web pages on the Internet. Google is now rapidly indexing the relationship between those “things” and other “things,” and displaying other relevant information. See the search for “Galileo” below.

I am not only immediately displayed pertinent information next to the search engine results pages, but other related items that have an inherent relationship with Galileo within the context of human knowledge. This allows users to immediately begin to drill extremely deep into any topic much faster, easier and better than they were able to before.

Going Wide: Bing’s Newest Social Updates
For a long time, I have ridiculed Bing’s attempts at integrating search and social. First, its exclusive data partnership with Facebook is blatant anti-competitive behavior. Second, if I happened to own a Dell, didn’t have the common sense to use Firefox or Chrome and did a search in Internet Explorer for something, I just didn’t see the utility of knowing that one of my Facebook friends liked a bar down the street. There are maybe five people in my social graph whose opinion I would value on something like that.

But with Bing’s newest update, it has built in something that I feel is being widely overlooked and is truly remarkable: search results appended with recommendations from people who have true subject matter authority. Some might argue that Google had already accomplished this with SPYW, but the fact is that search results were not really appended with valuable social data, just with data from people who were really good at manipulating Google Plus.

In the search result pictured above, I’m displayed a bunch of friends who might know something about “restaurants in Cincinnati.” That’s kind of useful, but I don’t really count on their culinary expertise. What is more interesting is the information  displayed in the “People Who Know” box. Everyone in there is influential on both Twitter and in terms of RSS subscriptions. In other words, they are true social authorities, not just great at using Google Plus. Even cooler, it can tell tangential topics that these people’s suggestions might help me.

So Which Is Better?
Neither! They are both such simple and elegant solutions to very different kinds of problems and very different kinds of research that require different inputs. Google’s update gives me the ability to go as far down the rabbit hole on a given topic as quickly as possible. It is learning at the speed of light. Bing allows me to receive information from both trusted and tested sources. I guess it really depends on what you’re searching for and which you find more valuable: the world’s most advance contextual machine learning tool, or the advice of a trusted source of information.

Either way, I wish these companies would all collaborate more. Imagine if I were able to type in “Galileo” and find recommendations from a professor at Harvard, or “restaurants in Cincinnati” to find out that not only does a place serve a great burger, it also used to be a speakeasy during prohibition.

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Catherine Salzman
Catherine Salzman

Catherine is Empower’s first Data Journalist, converting data into stories and linking consumer insights through execution. She also has significant Latino research experience, having been published in several peer-reviewed journals. Catherine lives in Bellevue, Kentucky with her husband and daughter.