Testing Bing, Part 3: The Experience

So I’ve talked about the quality of search results returned by Bing and Google.  I’ve gone over their features in depth.  But there’s one more element that should be considered: the overall experience.  How well is everything tied together?  How easy is it all to use?

We all know and love Google.  The UI is very simple.  It’s not particularly pretty, but it is easy to use.  Everything you’d want to find somehow appears exactly where you’re looking for it.  The lack of clutter brings the focus to what’s important.  People love Google because it keeps all the complexity away from you until you reach for it.  Sometimes, it almost feels smart.

Bing, on the other hand, just doesn’t get this.  The home page is fine.  It’s pretty, it reveals the various search types and features available, it gives you something interesting to look it, and it keeps the focus on your search.  But once you actually run the search, everything falls apart.

Why exactly does Bing behave so differently in different regions?  Try setting your region to Canada, and Bing is an entirely different animal than, say, United States.  The British site is again different.  They all expose different features, they use different layouts, and quite simply, they work differently.  This is confusing.  It’s also rather dumb: the rest of the world matters these days.

It’s great that Bing can suggest related searches for me.  I appreciate it.  But look at all these places and ways it does so:

  • Main categories along the top left, emphasized with color.
  • “Similar to this” links at the top right.
  • “Related Searches” at the left.
  • “Search history” at the bottom left.
  • Seemingly random links through the body of the results.

It’s baffling!  It clutters things up, and it gets in the way of my results.  Often, Bing will even run a few of these related searches and display the first few results.  Again, this might sound good in theory, but in real life, I now only get to see three or four results for what I actually searched on, and then the rest of the pages are basically Bing running amuck, wandering around doing what it feels like.  Where’s my control?  I’m running this search, I want Bing to do what I tell it to!

Another question: why are pictures displayed at the top and videos displayed at the bottom?  Why do you sometimes get only pictures, sometimes only video, sometimes both, and sometimes neither?  Why do image results use a slick ‘infinite scroll’ feature, but videos (and everything else) uses the old-school ‘Next Page’ routine?  Why do some search results have summary info at the top (such as flight status) and some results have it at the bottom (such as company details)? Why are additional links for a particular result sometimes displayed in a list under the result, sometimes one one line, and sometimes buried in the popup? What’s the deal with the search categories on the left… are they more ‘suggested searches’?  Links to other types of Bing searches?  Links to Wikipedia?  All of the above?

Basically, Microsoft is so busy cramming everything they can think of into Bing that they forgot the first rule: make it easy.  Often, I really have no idea where I’m supposed to click, or find my results, once I run a search.  Sure, it only takes a moment to figure it out, but you know what?  It only takes a moment to switch to Google, too.  And guess what I’m more likely to do?

Yes, Google has its problems, too… but nothing so bad as Bing.  It’s too bad, really… Bing has the results, the features, a nice UI, and pretty much everything needed to be a great competitor to Google, but Microsoft just didn’t tie it together.

The verdict: Your call.  Ultimately, you need to decide if you prefer a utilitarian 90’s style UI built by programmers (like Google) or a snazzy, modern, distracting UI built by committee (Bing).  To be honest, somewhere right in the middle would be perfect, but I’m still waiting for that one.

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Copyright © 2010 Paul Guenette and Matthew Sleno.