Thursday, June 04, 2009

Microsoft's new search engine throws the gauntlet at Google

Captions: 1. Screenshot of the Bing homepage 2. Bing tour page with a banner image of Huli wigmen from the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea

Internet search engines seem to have been all the rage for the last couple of days, first with the nerdy Wolfram Alpha a fortnight ago, and just last weekend Bing – Microsoft’s (AKA Bill Gate’s) answer to the Google juggernaut.
What if there was a better search engine than Google?
Microsoft has released its latest iteration of its search engine platform, Bing, into the marketplace in an attempt to take on Google.
Microsoft quietly launched its new search engine without fanfare and sans parade.
Such is technology, and just when I was getting used to Wolfram Alpha, as well as people from all over Papua New Guinea and the world, including well-known journalist and columnist, Frank Senge-Kolma, who was also bitten by the bug.
“It’s so marvelous,” wrote Bethuel Kotty from the Divine Word University in Madang after trying out Wolfram Alpha.
“I have tried and every calculation in mathematics, money and finance has been done and all the answers are given.”
The emergence of Wolfram Alpha made people start questioning Google and the whole future of Internet search engines.
And just when they were starting to do so, along comes the new kid on the block, Bing.
Bing has a PNG flavour to it as on the top of its tour page is a picture of a group of Huli wigmen from the Southern Highlands province (I’m wondering if they’re going to send a bill to Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, for use of their picture).
But Bing’s entry has been very controversial, as throughout this week, bloggers and Internet safety experts quickly discovered that one of Bing's ‘features’ is that it takes only a few clicks for anyone — of any age — to view explicit pornographic videos without even leaving the search engine.
Today Show’s technology editor Charlie Brown, well known to Papua New Guineans as we watch the Nine Network breakfast show every day, believes that Bing can take a chunk of the Google cake.
“Some pundits are probably asking ‘why bother?’” he writes on his blog
“Such is the strength of the Google brand.
“With between 70-90% of the market share in most western countries, to try and knock it off its perch seems almost impossible, and would be a very expensive exercise.
“Its current rival, Yahoo, only has about 15-20% share depending on the country, and that hasn't varied for a long time, and doesn't look like changing soon.
“Sure, others have tried to take a chunk off Google, but have failed.
“Wolfram, the most-recent example of a search engine device, is too narrowly-focused in its objectives to have any impact on Google.
“So is it a fait acompli? Is there no hope for any fledgling entrepreneur – or current player for that matter – to take on Google's seeming monopoly and win?
“Absolutely! I am of the belief that it is only a matter of time before Google is taken down a peg or two.
“What needs to happen is for one of the other companies to give their tool something that blows the company away.
“Think about it. If I was to say to you, ‘hey try this search engine, it's better than Google because of X, Y, Z’ and you tried it, and I was right, then like a virus the word would spread. That is all it will take.
“I'm not saying Bing will do this, because I haven't had the chance to have a good play with it yet, but what I am saying is to all those cynics out there – it can be done.
“And I believe it will only be a matter of time before some starts eating into Google's market share.”
In its bid to beat Google, Microsoft has unveiled a slate of convenient features for Bing, including an ‘auto play’ tool that lets users preview videos simply by hovering a mouse over them.
That asset may become a liability, because users can get a taste of porn videos on Bing instead of having to go to a smutty Web site — an innovation other search engines have yet to offer.
Technology blogger Loic Le Meur ( noticed the issue early Monday after testing video search on Bing.
What he found was a cornucopia of pornography that he said transformed the search engine into its very own pornographic Web site.
"You are now on a porn site without leaving Bing. Amazing," Le Meur wrote on his blog.
Bing, like other major search engines, lets users set filtering preferences at one of three levels — strict, moderate or simply off.
Online safety advocates argue that search engines need to do much more to cut off underage access to pornography — because the filters can be circumvented easily with just one click.
Content-filtering companies have also been reviewing Bing — and have found the same gaping problems.
Microsoft said in a statement that it was up to users to turn off the filters, and provided instructions on how to toggle the settings on its blog.
"By default, Bing filters out explicit image and video results,” the statement read.
“Consumers must take action to turn off the Safe Search filter in their settings in order for explicit image or video content to appear in Bing's results," the statement read.
Other major search engines like Yahoo and Google come up with similar video and image results when electronic filters are turned off — but don't provide automatic playing of videos within the search-results page.”
The abundance of pornography is something child health experts say is simply a fact of life.
"Kids can access pornography on the Internet no matter what the search engine is," Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, told
Walsh said it's particularly important that kids be protected from the worst excesses of pornography during their formative years.
"Because they're at the very age when they are developing their whole attitudes about sex and sexuality," he said.
“It's bad for them to be visiting porn sites where sex is basically a commodity to be bought and sold and where women are treated like objects.
“The attitudes that they're going to pick up there are not the attitudes we want them to have for life."
Protecting kids from pornography or other potentially harmful materials must ultimately rest with parents, Walsh added.
"I don't know that search engines can be programmed to do the job that parents need to," he said.

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