Waggener Edstom Given World’s Toughest PR Task! Selling Bing

Here’s $100 million, now sell the Bing search engine to a world of waiting idiots!

Well, semantic and/or natural language search finally crawled out of the primordial ooze recently with Waggener Edstrom’s, oh, I mean Microsoft’s public release of Bing. This writer has been deathly silent ever since Microsoft bought natural search poster child Powerset back when. But, this underwhelming, PR hyped facsimile of a technological innovation should awaken the dead voices of anticipation in all of us. If good PR is about telling the story, Waggener is spinning a fabled yarn at least as good as Jack in the Bean Stalk.

The irony is that I am now a PR, commenting on good PR practice, observing Waggener Edstrom throwing spitballs at the Internet public (and nearly everyone else on the planet). For those of you wanting the short version; “Don’t switch to Bing just yet”, and for those wanting a more in depth rant on what search should be by now, read on.

Let’s Get Into Semantics – Or Not

For the past several years the discussion on search has been about relevance and subordinate, market share. At least that was the discussion I was involved in. Microsoft bought one of the two leading “meaning based” search statups, choosing Powerset over hakia, and the wait was on. Now, Microsoft releases Bing, supposedly enhanced by Powerset technology, Waggener Edstom unleashes a flurry of dollars at the media world, and POOF! You are supposed to buy into the idea that a competitor to Google has emerged. If anyone will take note, there is no mention of Bing being anything related to a semantic engine, instead it is a decision engine? What the hell happened to artificial intelligent and the world’s most powerful mathematical analysis of the Web?

The Influencers

PRWeek author Tonya Garcia pretty much hits the nail on the head in categorizing the Bing PR campaign, describing it as; “a PR program that began by targeting influencers in the technology space”. She does not go so far as to call the campaign “all out hype”, so perhaps she left that task to me? Certainly the three outlets listed (TechCrunch, CNET, and PC World) did get an early look, but the reviews were a mixed bag of tricks at best. Tom Spring’s PC World analysis seemed the most “relevant” to the actual value of Bing, while Rafe Needleman’s for CNET was supportive of this article. Needleman bounces around Bing like richochet rabbit, first being critical, and then suggesting the millions of CNET readers use it? Here is one excerpt from Needleman’s less than in depth report on Bing:

In search presentation, Bing wins. It uses technology from Powerset (a search technology company Microsoft acquired) to display refined versions of your query down the left side of the page.

Okay, so? Just so the reader knows, Loren Baker (SearchEngineJournal’s Editor) and I interviewed Barney Pell just before the Microsoft acquisition of Powerset. I deferred writing a post on this, as Loren did a superb job of conveying Pell’s Powerset technology. All I have to say with regard to Needleman’s assessment (and Bing’s capability now), is that what Powerset revealed way back then was vastly superior to what MS unveiled. Using phrases like “display refined versions of your query”, in this case implies some nebulous advanced technology – when anyone could segregate suggested alternatives as well.

Taken in conjunction with statements from Microsoft’s director of PR and influencer marketing, Adam Sohn, Needleman’s assessment (sort of a – may as well try it recommendation) may be the best Bing could hope for at this point:

We needed to provide a lot [to] the technology press, particularly the reviewers who want to write in-depth reviews……. there’s something to be said about getting in the trenches and telling the right story.

Even Waggener’s PR guru Executive Vice-President Colleen Lacter was transparent with regard to at least “where” this story needed to be told, suggesting that Microsoft had; “selected a core group of people that we felt were influential in the tech community and started working with them.” For Arrington’s part at the TechCrunch wing of this “tech blog media blitz”, Michael expressed the right concerns for the most part.

Somewhat Transparent

Just the other day I sent Barney Pell a message on Facebook to the effect – WTF? My relationship with Pell of Powerset, Riza Berkan of hakia, Wales of Wikia Search, and everyone else in search for that matter, is pretty well known. I basically chastised Barney (and in Barney’s defense he gave a logical answer for his part) in this message because I could not understand why either myself, Charles Knight of AltSearchEngines, Loren Baker of SearchEngineJournal, or any of the other what you might call “search experts” seemed to be in on this news. I must say though, that my disenchanted rant at Barney was more in my own behalf than my other contemporaries. The reason I mention this is that something about the whole release seemed funny. But what?

Time Is Money, and Lots Of It – Why Waste Either?

This media extravaganza targeting specific outlets in such a way is no mystery really. Microsoft needed “known” and far reaching outlets for launching what is really a “Bing boat”, rather than a “Bing Battleship” against Google. Previewing this to people who have lived search for the past three years would have been a disaster. At least one search engine expert, SEO godfather Danny Sullivan, did get hold of Bing for perhaps the best “proof in the pudding” review so far. I will let Danny’s opinion carry its own weight, but for the reader here, it should be easy to see that Bing, at least for this search aficionado, is so far $180 million dollar waste of time (Powerset value plus the latest estimates of marketing).

Google – Fear Not

Riza Berkan, CEO and brain behind hakia, warned me and the rest of the world once; “You cannot test a semanitic, or any kind of search technology with only a few narrow queries”. He was correct of course, but given hakia’s biggest marketing mistake, going live before the engine was ready, anyone in search knows the public is going to compare right off. My initial searches with Bing mirror public sentiment I expect, but I will do a far more intensive study later on. Initially however, my opinion is that Bing cannot even find its own butt with both hands, as illustrated below.

bing1 Waggener Edstom Given Worlds Toughest PR Task! Selling Bing

Fig. 1.1 Why can't Bing see itself? Google can.

Dispute that the top link to eBay is the most relevant result any user would want in looking for the most publicized innovation of the last several months. Similar results are tendered with any number of queries, and I was saddened to find a search for myself revealed way too much about other Phil Butlers. In the screens below, two things are apparent. First, Google is far more relevant, if SEO’d to the point of uselessness in the travel area. Secondly, Bing does not even reflect a Wikipedia or other academic for the query Buenos Aires. How is this significant?

Well, for MS the re-organization of search could be highly effective if the indexes were segregated (which is probably what they plan to do). Google, like any other index, has any number of independent variables acting on it. In the case of SEO on Google, the only end result that can be, are properly SEO’d sites rising to the top. I will get into this in a later post, but the rub for Google (and the possible advantage of Bing) is that search is getting too cluttered by commercial sites.

bing3 Waggener Edstom Given Worlds Toughest PR Task! Selling Bing

Fig. 1.2 Still highly relevant, but showing SEO wear

and Bing…

bing4 Waggener Edstom Given Worlds Toughest PR Task! Selling Bing

Fig. 1.3 Where is semantic or natural language search?

Certainly, these screens do not illustrate all that much within the deeper context of meaningful search. However, for something MS is prepared to task one of the most powerful PR agencies in the world to showcase, well, need I say more? A Google search for Bing, in any language, reveals a descending tier of results from New, to Wikipedia, and so on. From a personal perspective, I never expected to be bragging on Google after watching my “darlings” of semantics all these months.

One Hit Amid Maggie’s Drawers

Bing’s image aspect is very good, as the screen below indicates. This is similar to what Loren and I saw from Powerset a long while back. It is however, not cause for shutting down Google’s search engine and waving the white flag of defeat (which is sort of what we should expect from anyone with Microsoft’s resources).

bing2 Waggener Edstom Given Worlds Toughest PR Task! Selling Bing

Fig. 1.4 Bing's one saving grace - organizing images

Just so the reader gets a better understanding of the dismay myself and many others are experiencing. I include a search result from an under funded startup called Worio Search. I did a review on this engine/platform a while back on SitePoint, and immediately thought of it in comparing how difficult, or easy it is to categorize results. Take a look and imagine.

bing5 Waggener Edstom Given Worlds Toughest PR Task! Selling Bing

Fig. 1.5 Worio not only suggests, it beats Bing too.

End of Part One – Insurmountable PR Tasks

I feel for the people of Waggener. Microsoft is a big client. Having to tell a story, when there is none, is a daunting task no matter how much money there is thrown at it. For Needleman’s part, and even that of Arrington and the others, being objective or even entusiastic in this case had to leave their readers feeling like they were watching their favorite authors doing a tight rope act. For me, I expected Microsoft to come out with a full blown Powerset enhancement, the likes of which the world might never see again. Instead, there is not even a mention of natural language or semantic search. Decision making engine?

The end game for search has so far amounted to zilch. Powerset might just as well have strung 4 PC’s together; one with health and family stuff, one with Wikipedia, one with travel and shopping sites, and the last with videos, maps and images to form a searchable matrix from which to compartmentalize Google searches. I think the gist of this Microsoft media surge is summed up by CEO Steven Ballmer; “We are going up against a verb..”. My partner Mihaela Lica pointed that out for free some time back. So, Waggener’s task? To make Bing into a household word (if not a verb) no matter how mediocre the technology revealed is. Good luck my compatriots, I do not envy the task. For me, I will be working no a more in depth analysis of Bing for one of the various search blogs – heads up on that.

Just in case audio visual hype is your thing :) Just a little free help for the folks at Waggener.


  1. says

    As the world’s first multimedia search engine, searchme.com, we know full well the daunting task of introducing a new search engine to the world. It is a matter of setting expectations low, constantly innovating, offering a strongly differentiated product and staying alive. I’m not sure Bing is differentiated enough, but I would never count Microsoft out, they almost always get it right eventually.

    Randy Adams

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Randy,

      You are so right on the “minimalization” of expectations, or other strategies that do not shoot your engine out of the skies before they get traction. hakia made this mistake and will probably never overcome it. As for MS, I am actually rooting for them. However, their campaign, for something so mediocre, is a little bit much for me. Making a commercial suggesting they are the answer to the economic crisis is just plain black hat as far as I am concerned. It also conveys their mistrust of the online community. They are assuming that the brand BING will be memorable and strong enough for people to get from their TV sets, past the dinner table, out of the back yard, and onto their search bar (which BTW will either be Google or Yahoo) to type in this “suggested” term, as if millions actually care about it? I do not think so.

      Thanks for your input and I wish you luck in your search endeavors as well. I need to test your engine for an article probably.


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