Microsoft Discovers That Bribing People To Use Its Search Engine Didn't Work

from the money-isn't-everything dept

We recently had a discussion about the role of money as an incentive and how it often doesn't work the way people think it should (i.e., money often provides negative incentive -- the opposite of what you would think). I'm actually working on another post about that topic that I'll hopefully finish later today, but here's a quick one demonstrating that point in action.

Way back in 2005, Bill Gates suggested that in the end, Microsoft would be able to beat Google because it had a secret weapon: it could bribe users to use Microsoft instead of Google, by offering them a cut of the advertising revenue. It took a few years, but Microsoft finally turned on that "feature" on a limited basis in 2008, offering cashback for people who bought certain products after searching for them via Microsoft's search engine. Later that year, it expanded the program to regular search. What happened? Not that many people cared enough. Microsoft kept upping the ante, but most people didn't care. They were happy with their Google searches, and even if Microsoft was paying them to use its search engine, it wasn't enough. Well, except for people who figured out how to game the system. But that's not who Microsoft was targeting.

Microsoft has now admitted the program was a failure and is shutting it down. In a blog post about the decision, Microsoft admits that people just weren't that interested:
In lots of ways, this was a great feature -- we had over a thousand merchant partners delivering great offers to customers and seeing great ROI on their campaigns, and we were taking some of the advertising revenue and giving it back to customers. But after a couple of years of trying, we did not see the broad adoption that we had hoped for.
Microsoft admission is quite open and honest, which is actually pretty cool. They don't sugarcoat it. They thought this was something people would like -- as the basic belief that monetary rewards drives activity would suggest -- but found that, in practice, it does not work at all.

Filed Under: bribes, search
Companies: google, microsoft


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2010 @ 2:27pm

    "who figured out how to game the system."

    I remember when, was it Bill gates? or some ISP? managed to offer everyone a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy for trying out, was it Dish TV or some Internet service or something? This was a long time ago. The thing is in the contract it said that you can cancel the contract at any time. The intent was clearly to have people subscribe for a year and get a $50 gift certificate for doing so. What people did was they signed up for the contract and immediately canceled and got their gift certificate. I think Bill gates lost millions of dollars before it got discontinued. I knew a bunch of people that did the same thing, it was all over my school that everyone was doing this and got their $50 gift certificate.

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