The switch to Live Search is on

Post ImageRobert Scoble posted today that he thinks Microsoft’s Live Search has really improved and has closed the gap with Google. Despite that, he doesn’t think anyone is going to switch away from Google. He says he won’t because of the trust he’s built over the years using Google. I think he’ll revisit that strategy at some point.

Over the last couple weeks, I have been using both Google and Live Search. More and more frequently, I have found that the Live Search results are better than Google’s search results. Most of the time they are almost identical. This is really important. The quality of results has to be on par with Google before people will consider switching. Now that the quality is there, here are the main reasons I am switching:

  1. Switching is easy – there’s really nothing keeping you at Google except habit.
  2. Live.com is shorter than Google.com – sounds dumb, but it makes a difference! I’ve never been a big user of the search boxes in the browser.
  3. Live Search looks so much nicer than Google! Both are simple, but the extra color that Live Search does have makes it look better.
  4. The speed difference is no longer noticable. The main thing I liked about Google was its speed. Live Search is just as fast now though.

I am not saying Live Search is perfect, but neither is Google. Both have their quirks and both have room for improvement. For example, Google’s results seem to be extremely out of date at times, but their image search is far better than Live.com’s. Both Google and Live suck at feed searches – Ask seems to have the lead there.

I think most people will agree with Robert on the trust thing though. When I first started using both engines, I would always do a search with Live Search first, and then do the search in Google. The reason was basically to make sure Live Search wasn’t giving me crap. I trusted Google more. I probably still trust Google more, simply because I’ve been using it for so long. But that doesn’t mean I am not willing to give Live Search a chance.

Are you going to switch?

Read: Robert Scoble

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

Post ImageThe ramifications of this deal will be felt for quite some time. CNET News.com is reporting that Google has purchased video sharing site YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. The deal has been rumored for some time, but I didn’t think it would actually go through:

“This is one of many investments that Google will be making to put video at the heart of a user’s online experience,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt on a conference call after the deal was announced. “When we looked at the marketplace and saw what was going on, we saw a clear winner in the social networking side of video, and that’s what drove us to start the conversations with YouTube.”

You can listen to an audio interview with Eric Schmidt and YouTube CEO Chad Hurley here.

Also today, YouTube announced some major distribution deals with the big record labels. All of a sudden, the threat of a lawsuit looks much less likely, doesn’t it? I wonder what the MySpace people will think of this deal. I’m sure they are a little scared now that YouTube has Google’s backing.

So the deal is done, Google is now king of video. Still, I can’t help but wonder if a simple, exclusive ad-deal with YouTube would have been a better investment for Google? I guess time will tell.

Read: CNET News.com

Comparing Windows Live Search and Google

Post ImageAfter less than a year in beta, Microsoft is set to release the final version of Windows Live Search tonight (actually it’s no longer marked beta for me). The search engine will now power MSN Search too. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to compare Live Search and Google (currently my default search engine). How does it stack up? Could it possibly be my new default search engine? Let’s find out.

First off, please note I am focusing only on the basic search functionality – load up the site, type something in the box, and press enter. Both Live Search and Google have a bunch of other options (and Live Search’s macros and other things are especially neat) but right now I am just interested in the search results I get. I will say however that I really like the look of Live Search. And that it loads just as fast as Google does.

1. hello world
First search is for what else but hello world (Live, Google)! This is a hard one. While the results are similar, I like Google’s better. Why? The top result is for a .edu site, talking about “hello world” program examples. The second result is for the Wikipedia entry on “hello world” programs. Live on the other hand, returns HelloWorld.com (which appears to be a streaming video site) for the top two results. Google has this one too, but at #3.
# of identical results in top 10: 5
winner: Google

2. mastermaq
Next up is a little vanity search, for mastermaq (Live, Google). I keep track of this search at Google fairly often, and it usually alternates between some Brazilian company and my blog as #1 (oddly enough my blog is down at #6 today). There’s a clear winner here, and it’s Live Search. Why? Well because all of the results but two are created by me. Google lists my profiles at other sites far higher than it does my own sites. Something created by me is far more important don’t you think?
# of identical results in top 10: 4
winner: Live

3. podcast spot
How about a search for Podcast Spot, since we’ll be releasing it soon enough (Live, Google). So these results suck on both sites, but that’s probably because you can’t actually get to Podcast Spot right now without a password. Despite that, Google delivers much better results. I don’t know how the first two results in Live even matched (some random color video and an article on GM podcasting). Google is at least smart enough to put our login page at #1. The category for Podcast Spot at the Paramagnus blog is #3 on both sites.
# of identical results in top 10: 2
winner: Google

4. britney spears
She used to be one of the most frequently searched for celebrities (Live, Google). The results start out almost identical on both sites, then Google goes downhill. “The Mystery of Britney’s Breats”, some crappy fan sites, and a Google page at #10 pretty give Live the win. With the exception of only the #9 result, everything Live returns is appropriate.
# of identical results in top 10: 6
winner: Live

And now for a tie-break!

5. ventureprize
Let’s see what turns up for the business plan competiton we competed in this year (Live, Google). What a terrible query for the tie-break! Anyway, it seems that Live is really showing Paramagnus the love, with five of the top ten results from sites belonging to us (I include my Flickr page here). Google seems to prefer the University of Alberta and City of Edmonton sites. While I love being higher in the search engines, I have to give this one to Google, for having the most relevant first result.
# of identical results in top 10: 4
winner: Google

So there you go, a very unscientific comparison of Google and Live. I am impressed enough by Windows Live that I’m going to try and use it for a week or so, to see if I feel anything is missing. The thought of not using Google does seem strange though! I am really happy with the speed of Live, because one of the main reasons I started using Google was that it is damn fast. The Live Search team was wise not to ignore this.

What has your experience been with these two search engines?

Internet Discovery

Post ImageSome say I spend too much time on the computer, but I say bah! Some say I spend too much time on the Internet, but again, I say bah! Why do I say bah? Because I know there’s still hope for us geeks, as demonstrated by Rory Blyth (who works for Microsoft):

[Google.] I owe you in a very big way. There are six billion people in the world, approximately five zillion web pages cataloged in your little magnetic platters, and you somehow managed against the odds to deliver a highly intelligent (major: aviation science / minor: journalism/creative writing), dynamic, gorgeous human being to my doorstep. I’m willing to pretend for a few minutes like our two companies aren’t out for each other’s jugulars with piano wire.

Seriously, it’s a great story, you should go read the whole thing. Rory is an excellent writer too.

So what kind of hope does he give us? Well, not necessarily that what happened to him will happen to the rest of us (although that would be cool, the girl is gorgeous!), but hope that there lies within the Internet a great potential, still waiting to be discovered.

Google is missing that human side

Post ImageTough times for Google right now. They were called out in BusinessWeek recently for creating lots of hype with few results. Scoble noted that they were completely missing from Gnomedex. Even I’ve made mention in the past that Google seems confused about themselves. And despite the fact that they only have one revenue stream, have grown too big too fast, and have dozens of other problems, I think a really important one is that Google seems to entirely lack a human side. An email I got from Google Checkout’s support team today really confirmed it for me.

I have read many a blog post citing Google’s complete inability to respond to emails or support requests, but I figured I’d try my luck and send one anyway. I emailed Google Checkout support, asking when Canadian merchants would be able to use the service (as we’re currently unable to). I wasn’t asking if, but rather when. This is the response I got:

At this time, only merchants with a United States address and bank account can integrate and process transactions through Google Checkout. We look forward to making the service more widely available in the near future.

Compare that with the help page on their website that I had already read:

At this time, only merchants with a U.S. address and bank account can process transactions through Google Checkout. We look forward to offering more options in the future.

Thanks Google, but I can read! Now to be honest, I wasn’t expecting a date or anything, but that’s not the point. This response could very well have come from an automated system (and who knows, maybe it was) as only the last sentence has been changed. And that is what is wrong with Google.

Google needs a human side. They need someone to maintain a regular blog, talking about everything, not just Google (a la Scoble). They need support people who can type a human response, something like “Hey, we love Canada, and oh btw, Happy Canada Day! We’re doing our best to bring you Google Checkout, so stay tuned!” They need real people to help launch and talk about new products. They need to become part of the community, they need to join the conversation, they need to act like humans instead of robots.

Microsoft and Yahoo! are so much better at this than Google. With all those smart people at Google, you’d think they would realize it’s better to participate?

No GBuy Yet

Post ImageLike a lot of other bloggers (at least I’m assuming I’m not alone here) I have been waiting patiently today, for any sign of Google’s long-rumored “GBuy” service. A report was published a couple weeks ago by Forbes, that said today would likely be the day Google would launch the service.

According to bloggingstocks, eBay, who would feel the largest effects of a GBuy service, was doing better today:

So after eBay hit a 52-week low yesterday, mainly on fears of up and coming competition from Google, investors had time to cool off and rethink the ramifications of this play. EBay stock gained back 50 cents (1.77%) to close at $28.75.

And according to the Search Engine Roundtable blog, quite a few people would switch to GBuy if it was ever launched:

Currently we have over 38% saying they will switch, only 19% saying they will not and 42% saying they just don’t know. Why would someone switch without seeing it first? Well, it is Google.

I just want to see if it’s anything like PayPal, which I quite like.

Maybe it will come late tonight. Or maybe it won’t come at all?

UPDATE: I knew I wasn’t the only one waiting!

UPDATE 2: Looks like we’ll see Google Checkout on Thursday. The service doesn’t seem to be available yet, so I’ll reserve further comment until later.

Google passed on MySpace

Post ImageThe July issue of Wired includes a feature on News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, and what might be his current crown jewel, MySpace. The main value that MySpace provides the company is “the power to make hits.” Ever hear of Dane Cook? He’s a really popular comedian probably because of his MySpace page. The Arctic Monkey’s are becoming popular in North America with help from their MySpace page. Lots of celebs have them now. MySpace is huge, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Of particular interest to me, Murdoch claims that Google passed on the opportunity to purchase MySpace, for about half the price News Corp. paid (which was still a steal). Murdoch says:

I like those guys, but theres a bit of arrogance. They could have bought MySpace three months before we did for half the price. They thought, “Its nothing special. We can do that.”

This, dear readers, is what happens when you’re a media company that thinks you’re a technology company. I’m not sure it’s arrogance, so much as it is this incredible desire to be a technology company that blinds them from making any rational decisions. Google’s big three (Larry, Sergei, and Eric) all have technology backgrounds, yet Google is very clearly a media company. Almost all of their revenue is derived from advertising, and they increase that revenue with more eyeballs, not necessarily great technology.

As Om Malik points out, Google really, really, should have bought MySpace when they had the chance:

As widely reported, MySpace is now the largest source of search traffic for Google, accounting for over 8% of their inbound traffic as of early May. That essentially means that MySpace is responsible for about $400 million of Google’s annual revenues. Knowing this, MySpace is trying to capitalize by holding an auction for its search business. If Google wins, it will end up sharing a significant percentage of that $400 million with MySpace… John Battelle thinks the split to MySpace will be close to 90%. And Google would need to pay it every year. Needless to say, had Google acquired MySpace, no such payments would have to be made.

Om also points out that Google+MySpace=Largest-Site-on-the-Web. Or at least, that’s what could have been. More eyeballs than anywhere else. A media company thinking like a media company would have purchased MySpace, no question.

News Corp. doesn’t have any such delusions. They’re a media company. They purchased MySpace.

[In case you’re wondering, my very plain, very boring MySpace page is here.]

Read: Wired

Who is Google's worst enemy?

Post ImageIf you said Microsoft or Yahoo, you’d be wrong. I think the real enemy for Google is itself, which is kind of like Microsoft, but for different reasons. Microsoft’s worst enemy is itself because it has to find ways to get people to upgrade from the existing versions of Microsoft software they already use. Or to move their users to a subscription model. Google’s worst enemy is itself because they have done an amazingly good job of accomplishing nothing.

“But they have so many products!” you exclaim. Exactly. They have got a ton of products, including some like the recently released Google Spreadsheets that seem to target Microsoft applications (though Microsoft’s Don Dodge makes a good case that they target open source software instead), yet none of them make money. Honestly, Google must have the largest number of non-revenue earning products of any company in history. I say they have accomplished nothing because their core product (AdSense, not search) really hasn’t changed all that much since it was launched. Instead of improving it, and finding ways to deal with click fraud and the other problems, Google has blinded itself with these side projects that seem bent on competing with Microsoft. And don’t be fooled by their ad company purchases – none of them have come to bear any fruit yet.

When I first learned about it, I thought that Google’s policy of encouraging employees to spend 10-20% of their time working on non-core projects was a good one, but now I am not so sure. It has resulted in lots of interesting technology to be sure, but not much else. I really don’t see how Google would get any ROI out of something like Google Spreadsheets. I have no idea what Google’s revenue breakdown is, but I highly doubt there’s a gem, other than AdSense of course, to be found.

That’s why I think Google’s worst enemy is itself. They have grown so big, so fast, that they forgot to take care of the goose that laid the golden egg. They haven’t cut it open yet, but if they continue to focus on these other mostly unimportant side projects, they might as well have.

Windows Vista gets thumbs up from DOJ

Post ImageIt turns out that I’m not the only one who though Google’s whining about Internet Explorer 7 was dumb. The Justice Department has reviewed many parts of Windows Vista, including the new search box, and has found no problems:

While criticizing Microsoft for its implementation of its existing antitrust accord, regulators appear satisfied with the software maker’s plans for Windows Vista, including a new search box that is part of Internet Explorer 7.

As part of its status report on Microsoft’s antitrust compliance, the Justice Department said that it had reviewed the search box and concluded that Microsoft’s implementation “respects users’ and (computer makers’) default choices and is easily changed.”

Thank goodness the government has gotten something correct for once! Apparently they have also approved the “first-boot” experience for Windows Vista, after having reached an agreement with Microsoft that gives flexibility to computer makers.

So what does it all mean? Essentially, it means the only thing holding Windows Vista back now is Microsoft itself.

Read: CNET News.com

Grow up Google!

Post ImageSometimes companies do things that just leave you baffled. There’s lots of commentary out there that suggests Google is taking the evil away from Microsoft, and the latest bit of news seems to support that. Apparently Google is not happy with Microsoft’s new browser and the way it features MSN Search:

“The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services,” said Marissa Mayer, the vice president for search products at Google. “We don’t think it’s right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose.”

So now they are lobbying the government, expressing concern about competition in the search business. Are you kidding me? First of all, it’s dead easy to change the default search provider in IE7 to Google (or anything else for that matter). Secondly, are they totally forgetting that they made a deal with Firefox to be the default seach provider (and start page too) in that browser? Or that they pay a lot of Mozilla’s employees? I mean seriously.

If you’re going to complain about something, at least make sure you’re not doing the very thing you’re complaining about. All too often Microsoft’s competitors run to the government. It’s kind of sad, really.

UPDATE: As this post explains, MSN Search is not the default search provider after all!

Read: CNET News.com