The amusing scuffle between Google and BING this last week reminds me of any number of Gary Larson’s Far Side comic strips where two grumbling old scientists are going at it over credit for some bizarre discovery (usually involving massively-mutated chickens or some such nonsense). Much like Larson’s work, the hilarity here is founded in the seemingly absurd.
Just think about it: The two smartest guys in the room are pointing fingers at each other and the accusations are of plagiarism, copying, cheating, stealing, and downright thieving. Really? I think that we all expect more professionalism and integrity from a few charter members of the Multi-Billionaires Club. Red faces all around, yes? We’ll just see about that.
For those that haven’t seen this little gem in the news, the story is pretty simple. Google became recently suspicious that Bing was copying search results returns from Google directly, when Google search engineers began to notice that Bing would sometimes return identical top results – even in the case of oddly-misspelled words in the search terms.
So, in an elaborate sting operation, Google Engineers generated a “one-time code” that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain time and then created some artificial search terms for some web content or other. They put the test in play.
Codename: Honeypot. Nice one.
In layman’s terms: Google associated a bunch of nonsense words (the term “mbzrxpgjys” was one of them) with legitimate search results. Google employees went so far as to search for these nonsense words via Internet Explorer and Bing at home and it took little more than ten days for the bogus search results to begin showing up at the competing search engine.
So, Google began by publicly calling Microsoft out, accusing Bing search engineers of deliberately using Internet Explorer tools to collect data from people who use Google’s search engine. Google then suggested that Microsoft used that data to improve search results at Bing. Ouch.
Now, in all reality, there’s maybe nothing illegal being done here – but it’s easy to imagine that hackles are raised and the massively-mutated chicken smackdown is about to begin.
Google sounds off first: “I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” said Amit Singhal, a Google Search engineer. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book. It’s cheating. It’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back who jumps off just before the finish line.”
What happened next is incredibly interesting: BING doesn’t deny any of Google’s claims.
Stefan Weitz, Director of Bing’s search engine merely comments that they regularly pull data from a number of sources – as all search engines will do – and that Google’s clandestine experiment is nothing more than an effort by Google to try to deliberately confuse or manufacture search information to negatively impact Bing’s reputation in the market.
A mild retort, to say the least.
But then Bing executives acknowledged that they monitored what links some users clicked – but described the act as “letting humans help gather data through crowd sourcing.” Bing also went on to say that their search team is comprised of some of the best and brightest minds in the field and that any accusations of theft or stealing are downright ridiculous. They then put out another memo setting the record straight 24 hours later. This put Google in the cross hairs of BING, saying that Google has adopted many of BING’s media and social features in search results.
So far, Google’s momentum has stopped dead on this issue. Google’s own Matt Cutts has a recent post called “My thoughts on this week’s debate“. Many people are saying Google has boxed themselves into a corner now because their toolbar provides much of the same basic click information to Google that BING gathers. It will be interesting to see what happens (if anything) next.