The Little Search Engine That Couldn’t: A History of Bing

The Little Search Engine That Couldn’t: A History of Bing

Jul 15, 2021, 2:16:09 PM Tech and Science

For almost two decades, Google has been the undisputed monarch of online search engines. In this period of time, what was initially a humble silicon valley startup quickly grew to be one of the world’s most valuable companies and everyone’s first choice when they’re wondering about the answer to an esoteric or embarrassing question. 


Today, Google is an all encompassing mega-corporation whose influence reaches the furthest, darkest and most obscure corners of the internet. No matter what site you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a YouTube video, a Google Ad or some other vestige of their far reaching influence. 


Over time, Google’s influence has become, for lack of a better word, oppressive. It often seems as if this influence is inescapable, as if they are the only option. We’re here to tell you that it’s not the only option! If you ever get tired of their influence, there’s a great alternative: everyone’s favorite preinstalled search engine, Bing! 


Now, as you probably know, Bing gets a lot of flak for playing second fiddle to its much larger and more ubiquitous competitor. Here’s something you might not know, however: Bing is actually a pretty great search engine! In addition to its impressively well realized suite of search tools, it also has a great deal of potential for online advertising. Let’s find out a bit more about this search engine, shall we? 


The beginnings of Bing


Before we go any further, we’ve got to get you up to speed on the Bing backstory. When was this search engine first released, and why does it remain so firmly behind in terms of active users and generated revenue? To answer these questions, we’re going to have to turn the pages of the history books back to the long forgotten year of 2009. 


Bing: a bold idea


While it may seem like it’s been ages since we saw the plaid miniskirts, portable CD players and flip phones of 2009, Google was already a landmark on the worldwide web. By this point, Google had been around for over eleven years and was the search engine of choice for the vast majority of internet users. Challenging Google’s web hegemony would seem like a fool's errand to most rational tech executives.  


Luckily for us, the management at Microsoft doesn’t seem to fall into this category. Their goal? Make a search engine that was better, faster and stronger than Google had ever been, and meet the need for a search engine that made it quick and easy to find exactly what you were looking for. With the odds firmly favouring their competitor, they nevertheless set out to accomplish this near impossible goal. 


The issues Microsoft hoped to address with the release of Bing were those of convenience. Despite its near monopoly on the search engine market, Google lacked much of the functionality necessary to help users quickly and efficiently find the precise results they wanted. The gap in the market was there; all Microsoft had to do was make a search engine to fill it. 


A search engine for the people 


With this concept in mind, the developers at Microsoft got to work on specific features that would help turn the idea into a reality.These features were highly novel at the time, offering a level of customizability, user friendliness and ease of use that had until that point never been seen before in a search engine. 


One of Bing’s most attractive features was its search filters. While this concept was not unheard of at the time, Bing took it far further than it had ever been taken before, and used it in a variety of new and innovative ways. Users could filter their search results by date, location, keyword density and many other metrics, vastly improving their efficiency and effectiveness when searching. 


Another innovation was the idea of displaying “result previews” on the search page, allowing users to see a short sample of the webpages the search had found. Instead of having to visit website after website until you found what you were looking for, you could quickly scroll through the results and find the page you wanted to visit. This helped users spend less time on the search page and more time on the page they were searching for. 


Leveling the playing field   


Once the search engine was ready for release, Microsoft set to work doing anything and everything possible to even the odds and improve the chances of success. Going up against the search engine market monopoly was a daring move by any standards, and this did not go unaccounted for by Microsoft. 


To this end, Microsoft arranged a number of business deals with a variety of online platforms, websites and companies that could help promote their newly released search engine and drive traffic to it. With Yahoo, Facebook and a variety of other companies agreeing to collaborate with Microsoft on this front, things seemed a lot more optimistic than previously anticipated. 


Of course, no amount of corporate collaboration would outweigh the huge advantage Google held, but analysts and developers at Microsoft believed that they had a reasonably good shot at overthrowing the search engine monopoly holder. With development officially finished, marketing at work and corporate deals secured, Microsoft could only wait and see what would happen upon release. 


Bing’s big day 


On May 28th of 2009, Bing was officially launched to great fanfare. The tech world held its breath in anticipation of what would happen next. Would this be the search engine to dethrone Google and take its place as the website of choice for finding recipes, video tutorials and pictures of cute cats? Or would it fall by the wayside, fading into obscurity as nothing more than a footnote in the annals of tech history? 


As you likely already know, what actually happened was somewhere between these two extremes. Bing saw moderate success after launch, quickly becoming the world’s second most popular search engine. This, however, was not as large a victory as it may seem to be. Google still dominated the market, with 77% of search engine traffic going through their platform. 


Today, Bing usage has declined to the point of near-obscurity. In 2020, Bing searches only represented 4.58% of total search engine traffic, a mere fraction of its initial 25.6% market share. As other search engines such as Google continue to add functionality, the benefits that initially made Bing popular are no longer quite so attractive. 


Who still uses Bing? 


Since its underwhelming launch and subsequent decline, Bing has fallen into relative obscurity. Most people are aware of its existence, obviously, but they aren’t using it. Yet somehow, it’s still up. So who still uses Bing, and what do they use it for? Well, the answer might surprise you; as it turns out, there are actually quite a few people who prefer Bing for a variety of reasons! 


While Bing doesn’t have nearly as many active users as Google, statistics show that its users are actually wealthier than the average Google user. The reason for this is somewhat unclear, but its most noticeable effect is how attractive Bing has become to advertisers. With its wealthier user base, companies looking for a more affluent audience will find it with Bing. 


Conclusion


In the end, Bing never truly became the search engine to kill Google. The few die-hard users who remain do so out of a desire to stick it to “the man” or a sense of complacency, we’d imagine. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to think back on the history of Bing, and what could have been but never came to fruition. Ah, what could have been!

Published by Beni Restea

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