tackling brands is tricky, tackling verbs is even harder
Matt Yglesias asks “Is bing better?” in reference to Microsoft’s new search engine which may or may not become a real competitor to Google. Microsoft often enters these various markets with mixed success – the Zune has gained some ground recently, at least as far as I can tell speaking with friends. I haven’t checked the data. The Xbox remains popular and competitive against rivals Playstation and Nintendo. And, of course, Windows is still the top dog there – for now.
But creating a competitive search engine is tricky. Not only are there already a number of other search engines – like Ask.com and Yahoo! – but even those don’t really compete against Google in any meaningful way. This is largely because Google has transcended mere brand status and has become a verb. Once something becomes a sort of universal noun, that’s bad enough. Kleenex did this in the tissue market, becoming pretty much synonymous with tissue. So whether or not you were using a generic tissue or a Kleenex, you called it a Kleenex. They transcended brand. But it’s so much more potent to achieve verb status, and that’s what Google’s done. You “google” something now – you rarely hear someone say “search.” You never hear anyone say “just ask it” or “just yahoo it” – or at least, I never do.
So I go over to bing.com and google something. I’m not sure I can “bing” it, even when, er, binging it. Consciously or not, I’m googling it, and I’m not sure that I can do the mental gymnastics necessary to disassociate the concept of searching for something on the internet with the verb google.
I’m sure Microsoft hopes they will get people saying things like, “Well did you bing that?” and I have to give them credit for coming up with an engine title as short and catchy as “bing.” Its simplicity is perfect for achieving verb status, much better than Yahoo! or Ask or any of the others I’ve seen. And the quality of search may even be better than Google. Who knows?
It may be too late regardless. We may already have the verb we need to describe the act of searching the internet, and no matter the quality of the search itself, we may not really care to change over, or even be able to. I don’t think people use Google because it’s the best. They use it because it’s the most familiar, and the most natural, and because when you think about googling something, you head over to google to do it, or go up to that search box up in the right-hand corner of Firefox.
That’s the genius or the luck of Google, and unless people really do start to get sick of it, or someone can come up with a truly unique way to search that really changes the way we think about internet searches, or Internet Explorer finds a way to really take back the browser market, I just don’t see that changing any time soon.
I don’t get the wall-paper like pictures at the Bing homepage. They look like Vista backgrounds and seem totally irrelevant. If Microsoft is going to do something like that, why not have photos of current events? Link them to stories at MSNBC or something. At least that would be useful, and wouldn’t make the screen look like an ad for Windows 7.