There’s been an uproar (at least in tech circles) over the past week about allegations from Google that Microsoft’s Bing search engine was copying results from Google’s offering. There goes Microsoft again, being evil! There goes Google again, being good! At least, that’s the popular sentiment. However, the whole thing struck me as bizarre. Technology companies have for years copied each other’s offerings, putting minimal twists or variations in their own products:
- Microsoft Windows copies Apple’s MacOS.
- Lotus copies Visicalc (the first spreadsheet).
- Google copies every search engine in existence when they start.
- Google’s Android OS copies Apple’s iOS.
Now, most people would respond that this isn’t the sort of detailed copying that Google’s objecting to. Macro-copying of a product or service is OK – that’s just old fashioned competition.But what about copying a particular feature? That seems to be OK by Google as well:
- Google copied Bing’s search engine backgrounds last year.
- Google copied the previews of sites shown in search results
These were both good ideas, and were major differentiators from a user’s perspective for Bing. Bing’s attractive backgrounds before starting a search were a classy very non-Google approach to take that immediately set it apart from it’s main competition. Google felt like copying it was not an issue at all.Macro copying of an entire service or product line is OK with Google. Copying specific features is OK with Google. Maybe Google has an issue with the specificity of Microsoft’s copying. They don’t like the very precise manner with which Bing lifts its results. Still, Google has done this before as well when they copied Yahoo’s marketing in an almost pixel perfect ripoff.
Now, my example provided above is admittedly much smaller in scope and much easier to have happen accidentally by some ill-advised graphic design intern, but I think it’s ridiculous to post about Bing copying Google when it’s a fact that all search engines routinely spend significant time analyzing their competitors. Google has plenty of research and monitoring directed towards Bing, Yahoo, and others, otherwise how would they have known Bing was swiping their results? In other words, we’re back to the copying that Google is comfortable with – a little higher on the food chain, a little more abstracted.
What Bing and Microsoft are doing is certainly dirty, and annoying. But it’s also stupid, lazy, and incredibly shortsighted – they might be improving their results temporarily but now they’re struggling in a PR battle they’re sure to lose. They’re also not working on improving their own rankings or understanding why Google’s results are what they are. Still, I can’t help but feel Google’s righteous indignation is a little over-the-top on the eve of it releasing several major copied products: its Facebook killer, Honeycomb (the tablet version of Android), a Groupon killer (Update: A reader provided this link showing an almost perfect ripoff from their beta site), and many more.
Iteration is part of competition, and the way to beat a competitor (especially one who copies a little too closely) is to keep iterating. Google exposed Bing, but I can’t help but wonder if they should have just ignored the whole thing, chuckled to themselves, and kept working. I wonder how many millions went over to Bing and tried it after this announcement.