Bing or bong?

June 15, 2009

I have to say, “I don't get it.” My first visit to Bing left me a little confused. Ready to satisfy my curiosity about all of the Bing hype, I arrived on the homepage for the first time this past weekend to see an image of Miami. “Hmmm?” I thought. I moused around on some of the hotspots and nothing was that compelling, so I hit refresh to see if I’d get something new. Miami. Miami. Miami. Each time I hit refresh it was the same.

I'll admit that, as a marketer, I'm not as up as I might like to be on Microsoft’s overall strategy and the features of Bing. But perhaps that puts me at an advantage here – I’m able to look at this new offering through the lens of the average web consumer who hasn't read all of details about Bing and Microsoft’s strategy.
Visiting the site cold in this way, with no preconceived ideas of what Microsoft was trying to do, I have to admit, the imagery and subject matter of the homepage left me completely confused. With the exception of the search box, I really didn't know what I was looking at. Is this a travelogue? Is it the search “theme” for the month? Is it Microsoft's way of combining freshness and randomness with some visual demonstration of the power of its search relevance? Perhaps they’re going for some combination of a visual StumbleUpon and Google's practice of subverting their logo with different themes (which delightfully and playfully surprises us every so often)?
For me, unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Search is at once about relevance, randomness, and serendipity. That is the experience web users and explorers have come to expect. Bing’s homepage mode feels static and a little contrived. I feel like each of the images were carefully chosen by a group of people on Bing’s marketing team well in advance of “June 15, 2009.” The fact that each theme seems to last for a day feels immediately stale. This is the age of Twitter and FaceBook posts, folks. The cacophony of content on the Internet regenerates itself millions of times a second - things of interest pile up like silt on the sea floor. A day feels like an “era” in search engine time and the images feel a little too precious. The hotspots, also, don’t feel like the result of an advanced algorithm combined with a quantum leap in visual display (as one might expect). They feel like paid promotions embedded by hand and designed to look random.
All in all, it doesn’t feel like a genuine step forward or in any particular direction for search or Internet discovery. It feels like a search engine built by marketers not tinkerers and infotech scientists – bit of a sour note for me. More of a “Bong” than a “Bing” for me, perhaps. C’mon Microsoft, you’ll have to do better than this if you want me to change my homepage.
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