Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Microsoft continues its pursuit of Google

The current standings in Internet search are ...

  1. Google -- 58.8%
  2. Yahoo! -- 22.2%
  3. Microsoft - 9.8%

Based on my years' of observing the Redmond, WA company, they don't like to be second place at all, much less in third place. Once they set their sites on a competitive target, they normally catch up within 2 years. For instance, Lotus 1-2-3 was the de facto spreadsheet standard for almost a decade. Then Excel rendered it irrelevant. The same can be said for WordPerfect. For years, SQL Server was not even part of the enterprise database engine conversation. It was Oracle, IBM, or nothing. But Microsoft rolled up their sleeves and turned MS SQL Server into a robust and scalable platform.

For whatever reason, they just haven't been able to translate that track record into search engine supremacy. Even as the various installations of Internet Explorer come pre-configured to use Microsoft's search engine, Google still dominates the market. Certainly, it's no accident that "Google" is now virtually a verb in the English language.

So it makes me wonder about a recent lead from Microsoft that internal staff are being encouraged to test out Kumos, their next search engine. One of the bloggers at the Wall Street Journal recounts an internal memo that states:

In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40% of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46% of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don’t find what they need from search today.

I don't know about you, but I find these numbers to be unrealistic. If search queries were that unsuccessful, then they would not be the most common method of finding information on the web. And "Google" would definitely NOT have reached the status of Kleenex, Xerox and Band-aid in the American lexicon.

Obviously, Microsoft believes there is real value in being the search engine of choice. But I'm not so sure it's worth the development, marketing and support costs. Google has become a habit for nearly 60% of users. And they earned that position by being the first to market, and by producing consistently good results.

Articles from the Wall Street Journal Online (links may require registration):

Microsoft Internal Memo: All Things D

Microsoft Corp.: MSFT (NASDAQ)
Google, Inc.: GOOG (NASDAQ)
Yahoo! Inc. YHOO (NASDAQ)

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