Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Microsoft's Bing is cool but....

After reading a lot about Microsoft's attempt at improving search and trying to steal market share I decided to try it myself. No, this is not a bashing post about a monopoly trying to monopolise. Microsoft do not have a monopoly on search, Google do, and any decent competition in search would be a good thing as it would drive improvements in the field including at Google if Microsoft were successful in pulling a large enough market share. In fact, Microsoft are now so confident in Bing as a search portal that they have made it the default search engine for Internet Explorer 6 (whethere you want that or not).

Bing is actually really good. It eschews Google's philosophy of simple and clean by making the search interface more attractive. It keeps a search history so you can always refer back to what you searched for before which in itself attracts me as I constantly need to re-search for things. One of its greatest features is the mini-preview of a site you can get by hovering on a link to the right of the search result which gives you a quick run down of what that page is about and relevant links on that page that may be useful too making getting to what you want on that site relatively easy. See the pic showing the search results for Synaq and the preview of the first result.

So why the but in the title? Bing will probably get blocked at pretty much any organisations firewall level, perhaps even at home. The simple reason for this is because Bing also allows you to preview video results by just hovering over a video thumbnail. The video itself actually plays in the search results window as you hover over it, which is a great way to preview video but can allow people to bypass firewall settings that are supposed to block things like porn.

Techcrunch have already written about this and it can mean bad things for Microsoft's goal to grab market share. Hard to do that if schools, corporations and any other organisation providing people Internet access over its network block access to Bing. The problem is because most organisations filter on a per site basis. Bing circumvents that with its video preview feature acting as a kind of proxy to these not-so-safe sites. The feature is great and makes finding that video you are after even easier, but human nature will abuse it and already has started doing so.

Sure there are other ways to filter at a firewall like if the url contained certain search strings. But then someone has to maintain a growing list of potential search terms that people can use to try and get results from Bing to satisfy their craving for the hardcore. Its a lot easier to just add www.bing.com to a block list and will probably end up being the norm unless Microsoft can come up with a better way to do this.

Bing does have a safe search setting, like Google, but its a matter of two clicks to disable it. One way Microsoft can help alleviate this issue is to include the safe search setting (full, moderate, off) into the url as well with each web request. A firewall can then filter based on that, allowing people onto Bing if their safe search setting is on full.

Who knows though what the big Redmond will end up doing. I'd actually hate to have that video preview ability removed because it is really useful, especially in a place like South Africa where bandwidth is still at a premium and being able to preview a video quickly for a few seconds before loading up the entire host site is advantageous to the bottom line.

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