When it comes to the Web, Microsoft's Job One is to get its Bing search engine a chunk of the market share long controlled by Google. In the short term, at least, Microsoft's strategy is to load up Bing with new features and integrated results, as evidenced by a flurry of new announcements.
Just this week, Microsoft has announced enhancements to Bing's maps, improving functionality so users can now easily click and drag the maps around; the integration of MSN videos with the search engine; and Wednesday, the inclusion of Wolfram Alpha search results for health and food-related queries.
Promoting the deal, by which Bing uses Wolfram's API to integrate data into Bing results, a Wolfram Alpha blog revealed a deep geek connection between founder Stephen Wolfram and Bill Gates.
The story goes like this, according to the post: "Highlighting examples of Wolfram|Alpha to the most senior executives at Microsoft, Stephen Wolfram entered the query "2^2^2^2^2". Upon seeing the result, Bill Gates interrupted to say, 'What, is that right?' A profound silence fell over the entire room. Stephen replied, 'We do mathematics!' Amused, Stephen, Bill, and the other executives dissected the calculation and determined that the result was, indeed, correct."
Gains, But No Traction Against Google
Microsoft seems to be doing something right. Experian Hitwise released numbers for October, showing Bing achieved a seven percent gain in market share, from approximately nine percent to more than 9.5 percent. Good news, but Bing's traffic is still one-seventh of Google's, which controls a whopping 70 percent of search.
Microsoft's attempts to improve the user experience and leverage its many media properties and partners "so far are not enough to dramatically change the landscape," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research.
"Bing may be incrementally growing its share at the expense of AOL and Ask and to some degree Yahoo, but it doesn't seem like they've taken any traffic from Google," Sterling explained. Several surveys are showing Google's market share is unchanged since the launch of Bing.
Is Google Untouchable?
So what would it take for Microsoft to break Google's stranglehold on search? "Something very radical," Sterling said. In fact, Google's hold on PC-based search may be so established that the odds of Microsoft taking a serious bite are quite limited. If Microsoft is to make headway, Sterling noted, "They need an an area that really pops, that really grabs the imagination, and they need to execute well across the board."
If that's too tall an order, Microsoft may find a more open playing field in mobile, which is a more dynamic space than PC-based search. But even here, Sterling said, Google is "pushing so aggressively in the mobile space and moving so fast" -- especially with the acquisition last week of mobile advertising network AdMob for $750 million -- "it's hard to imagine unseating them even there in the absence of a new paradigm."
Still, new paradigms are possible, such as searching via camera, voice and bar codes. "I do see possibilities there and I don't think Google has a lock on the mobile search market," Sterling said.
With Google's Android operating system for mobile devices appearing to be ascendant -- Motorola's high-profile Droid phone runs on Android -- Google has yet another leg up in the mobile world. "Every Android handset I've seen has the Google experience front and center," Sterling said. "If Android is ascendant, Google search marketing will benefit and Google will benefit. The acquisition of AdMob gives them a very strong presence on mobile, as well."