by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
bing, copying, innovation, search

google, microsoft

Microsoft Highlights Why Google's 'Cheater' Accusations Ring Hollow

from the good-for-them dept

We had a long discussion recently about Google's response to discovering that Microsoft used clickstream data from users to help improve the relevance of their own search. Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi has now written up a much more detailed response from Microsoft's point of view, in which it again clarifies that contrary to Google's statements, Microsoft is not "copying" Google's search results, but merely using clickstream data as one of many (Microsoft says approximately 1,000) variables in improving search relevance. Microsoft does take one cheap shot: noting that, technically, the "honeypot" trick that Google used to uncover this certainly appears to be a form of "clickfraud." That is, it was a trick designed specifically to manipulate Bing's search results.

But the key point is made towards the end:
We have brought a number of things to market that we are very proud of -- our daily home page photos, infinite scroll in image search, great travel and shopping experiences, a new and more useful visual approach to search, and partnerships with key leaders like Facebook and Twitter. If you are keeping tabs, you will notice Google has "copied" a few of these. Whether they have done it well we leave to customers. But more importantly, we take no issue and are glad we could help move the industry to adopt some good ideas.
That's the point that I tried to make in the original post. History has shown that innovation occurs via competition, and part of that competition often involves competitors building on each other's work. A few months back, I wrote a review of the excellent book Copycats by Oded Shenkar, which makes this point very, very clear. Innovation happens when companies build on each other's work. But, what you learn is that it's not just about "copying," it's about all of the players learning, innovating and expanding the overall market. Just straight up copying rarely does enough to make a difference (in fact, we've discussed this problem in the form of cargo cult copying, where companies just copy some superficial aspect, and discover that it's meaningless). That's clearly not what Microsoft was doing here.

In the comments to our original post, someone made the comment, in defense of Google, by saying if what Microsoft did was okay, then couldn't he just go out and say "I've got a billion dollar search engine idea!" and then just copy Google's results. But, of course, if anyone actually thinks this through, they'd realize that copying Google's search results is not a billion dollar search idea. Assuming that, tomorrow, we launched a "new search engine" that gave the identical results to Google, almost no one would use it. Why would you? There's no real advantage to doing so. And for people who already use Google, it's probably much more integrated into their lives, with Gmail, Google Docs and more. The search results themselves are not the "billion dollar idea." It's the overall execution.

Hopefully Google learns from this and realizes that it has learned plenty from watching Microsoft as well, and complaining about Microsoft using clickstream data is a waste of time. Focus on continuing to innovate, Google, which'll probably mean learning more things from Microsoft, in addition to what you're doing yourself.

To be fair, Matt Cutts also has a put together a decent response, where he points out that the real issue here may be disclosure -- in that Microsoft did not clearly disclose that it was using clicskstream data (and especially how it was using that data). That's a perfectly reasonable point, but it was not the original point that Google raised. I agree that Microsoft could and should be much clearer in its disclosure -- but that's a totally separate issue. Cutts also explains why he thinks that Microsoft really is "copying," but again, even if we grant that premise (which I don't think is accurate), I still don't see why that matters. Copying and improving is a part of the innovative process. Google should embrace it.

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  1. icon
    Avatar28 (profile), 4 Feb 2011 @ 5:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: This word you keep using, Google does not think it means what you think it means


    In any case, I have to disagree. What you have described IS innovation. Take an idea that someone else had and improve on it. Based on your logic Google's image search is inferior to Bing's because MS had the idea for the infinitely scrolling search and then Google copied the idea.

    That's also not what I believe happened here. Rather, MS is looking at user behavior. User searches for a word or phrase in Google or any other search engine and then clicks on links A, B, and F (having decided that C, D, and E are just blog spam). When the search is done on Bing it takes into account that people were clicking on A, B, and F but only a few were clicking on C, D, and E and they didn't stay if they did. When it ranks the results C, D, and E are ranked lower as a result.

    Basically, it brings humans into the ranking process to provide more useful results. Digital computers are not nearly as good at recognizing patterns (and thus filtering out junk sites) as the human brain. In some ways, it is sort of like Yahoo did in its early days. Also bear in mind that even after Google engineers fed Bing lots of fake data and fake clickthroughs on nonsense words they still only managed to get Bing to show the site they wanted a like 6 times out of 100 attempts. In other words, using a bullshit scenario that would never happen in real life they were only able to trick Bing a whopping 6% of the time.

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