Yesterday, while I was editing Gordon Davidescu’s fine article about Mitt Romney appearing on television in Brownface — I had a devil of a time trying to find an article I swore I wrote a long while ago about Ted Danson appearing in public in Blackface while he was dating Whoopi Goldberg. I wanted to link that article in Gordon’s article.
I can usually find anything I’ve written on the internet in a refined Google search — though it’s harder now that all the search engines have re-tuned their return results to reflect newer articles instead of older artifacts — but I could not find any article like that in Google. I also searched my online Google Drive, too. Nothing. I searched all my local hard drive archives. Nothing. I still couldn’t let go of the notion that I’d written about Ted’s Blackface.
As a last gasp effort, I decided to give Microsoft Bing a try — just to see if they held something I hadn’t been able to find that might provide a breadcrumb of a link back to my Danson in Blackface article that didn’t seem to exist anywhere.
When I landed on the Bing homepage, I saw the “Bing it On” challenge I’d heard about en passant, and I decided my missing Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson Blackface article was a perfect test of the two search engine giants to see if they could help me find an article that didn’t appear to exist.
Here’s the official PR background on the Bing vs. Google challenge:
Since we launched Bing, we’ve conducted ongoing tests to measure our relevancy, assess customer feedback and satisfaction, and examine our product in many different ways. A while ago, we began to notice an interesting trend – Bing was beating Google in our search relevancy tests. After carefully following the trend data for several months, we decided to commission an independent study to test which web search results people prefer.
You may be surprised: the research shows that people chose Bing web search results over Google nearly 2:1 in blind comparison tests. People are surprised because of how deeply the Google habit is ingrained in most searchers—they are responding based on their habits rather than the facts.
I banged on Bing!
I did five searches on various iterations of my name + Whoopi + Ted + Blackface in all different forms, and while no proper article I wanted was returned, it seemed that, after an initial draw, I preferred the Google results every time — even though I never found what I was searching for…
You may wonder if I was predisposed to choose a Google result over a Bing result because I use Google every day and I’d just done a series of fruitless Google searches on pretty much the same search sets, but I’m sure Bing takes into account that tainted predisposition to lean Google and reformats and MSFT enhances the challenge to be as neutral as possible and they probably find a way to make your eye lean toward the Bing result.
In fact, I think I’d be determinedly predisposed to NOT pick Google because I’d been so frustrated by just not finding what I wanted in their results — and I honestly had no idea which side gave me the better results, I just wanted to find my article!
I think the reason I always picked Google over Bing — now that I know the results of the test — is that the option I preferred seemed to be richer and more precise in the specificity of my search want.
If the search engine couldn’t find what I wanted, it either seemed to truncate to shortened results like Bing or, like Google, tried to infer what I was really trying to ask and then anticipate what my next search would be if I wanted to keep refining my search criteria. I like the Google attack for helping me recover from a failed search.
In the end, both Google and Microsoft failed me — I also tried Yahoo! and the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine with even worse results — and the lesson learned is that if you never wrote an article you know you wrote, then no search engine in the land can help you find what doesn’t exist.