Saturday, February 18, 2012

No Honor Code in Search Engine World?

On Feb 1st, 2011, Danny Sullivan, an editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, a blog that conveys news and information about search engines and search marketing, posted an article that caused a buzz in the search engine world: “Is Bing copying Google search results?” Google’s allegation was that Bing has been collecting information by watching what people search for on Google, and then uses it to improve its own search results. Google came up with their own sting operation to prove it. One of the examples that made Google suspicious about Bing for cheating was that Bing found and showed the same lists of sites as top results as Google did when a user gave a misspelled input without fixing the spelling of it. Google corrects misspelled words and searches the sites based on correct spelling. However, Bing did not go through such process, but still managed to search the same sites. Moreover, Google also insisted that they noticed that URLs from Google search results would later appear in Bing with increasing frequency.

Finally, a team of Google engineers led by Amit Singhal decided to conduct their own sting operation to prove Bing is indeed cheating. They created a code that would force its search engine to show a random page for a certain query even though they are completely unrelated. About 100 “synthetic queries” were created for the operation where most of them are gibberish that people would hardly type in, such as “hiybbprqag”. The resulting pages were random and unrelated to synthetic queries. Google ran the experiment from the mid to the end of December in 2010. Surprisingly, the same pages appeared on Google after typing fake queries also started appearing on Bing results. However, only a small number of the test searches (less than 10 out of 100) yielded such result to verify that Bing has been taking advantage of Google’s search algorithm. Thus, it is hard to say that Bing copies exactly what Google does. Is it likely that Bing uses Google’s search results as one of many signals they use to determine page ranking.

Amit Singhal, Google search algorithm engineer, believed Bing is cheating and said “we work incredibly hard and have done so for years [to improve Google search engine] … [It’s] like running a marathon and carrying  someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.” About Google’s allegation, Stefan Weitz, Bing search director replied, “Many companies across the Internet use this collective intelligence, sharing HTML documents to hypertext links, to make their products better every day. […] We never set out to build another version of an existing search engine.”

Even nowadays, competition is heating up between Google and Bing to be the best and most popular search engine in the world. Recently, Google has merged search and Google+ to provide personalized search results using social signal as one of their factors in determining page rank results. Bing started to collaborate with Twitter and Facebook against Google.


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