Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Google, Bing, Microsoft, 'Original' Work, and Getting a Grip

You've probably read about it already: Microsoft, Bing, Google, and what looks like either incredibly bad luck - or an incredibly daft business decision.

However, the Lemming hasn't ranted about it yet. That's what this post is about.

Bing "Busted!"

"Microsoft Pulls a Fast One on Google"
John C. Dvorak, (February 2, 2011)

"Google is accusing Microsoft of stealing its search results on Bing. So what happens next?

"I'm sure you've all heard by now that Google is accusing Microsoft of using Google results to improve the results you get on Bing. I think this is genius.

"Using the logic behind this sort of strategy, I should develop a search engine that's free of actual web crawlers and servers and any sort of infrastructure. It will just have ads to make money.

"No wait, that's already out there. They're called Dogpile and Beaucoup and half a dozen also-ran engines that some people like to use. At least, those engines credit Google, whereas Microsoft does not.

"This, of course, brings the nasty little habit that Microsoft has of lifting other people's ideas and good works and 'embracing' them back to the forefront.

"Hey, all they are doing is embracing the Google results so you, the customer, can benefit.

"Microsoft, of course, says this assertion is bogus. It may well be, since we always suspect the worst when it comes to Microsoft and its business practices. Google claims to have spotted this practice some time back, so it began to plant bogus information in its search results. Then Microsoft magically had it in its search results. Busted!..."
The Lemming Rants: Bing "Busted," or Incredibly Unlucky
The Lemming isn't always on the same page as Mr. Dvorak. And the Lemming isn't one of the folks who assumes that Microsoft can do no right. This time, though, the Lemming thinks John Dvorak got it right.

From what the Lemming's seen, Bing is either the unluckiest search site on the planet, or someone made a really stupid decision.

Either way, it doesn't make Bing look good.

A little later in this post you'll see Bing search results which (just happen?) to look a whole lot like Google search results. That is, you will if you decide to keep reading: which is strictly up to you.

The Lemming can see how similar results could happen. Microsoft's explanation, though, sounds too much like a mixture of executive double-talk and none-too-bright evasion. And when Bing duplicated Google's search results - for a page that shouldn't have been displayed - it's like one calculator starting to say that two plus two equals five - at the same time that another one does. More about that later, too.

In the Lemming's opinion, this looks a whole lot like someone in the information industry forgot a fact of the Information Age: Copying is easy; so is detecting copies.

Being Choosy About Copying - is Still Copying

"Reactions to Google, Microsoft Search Spat"
Courtney Banks, Digits, WSJ blog (February 2, 2011)

"Google's accusation that Microsoft is copying its search results has touched off a spate of reactions on company blogs, tech new sites and Twitter, making the latest volley in the tech giants' longtime rivalry look something like a public fist fight.

"Google's claim was first reported yesterday by Danny Sullivan on the technology blog Search Engine Land. Mr. Sullivan's article published details of Google's 'sting operation,' which the company says proves Bing is using Google's search results to improve its own service. Amit Singhal, who helps oversee Google's search ranking algorithm, was quoted as saying Microsoft's actions consituted 'cheating.'

"Shortly after, Microsoft corporate vice Harry Shum offered a somewhat restrained response on Bing's search blog, calling the article 'interesting' and Google's investigation and complaint 'a spy-novelesque stunt.' Mr. Shum also wrote that Bing uses 'over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm' and Microsoft 'never set out to build another version of an existing search engine.'

"Separately, a Microsoft spokesperson stated 'We do not copy Google's results.'..."
Being Picky, Being Honest: Not Always the Same
Mr. Shum's statement may, essentially, be true - but:
  1. Choosing from over 1,000 sources - and presenting one as your own work isn't all that different from "copying"
  2. For an 'original,' Bing's result looks a lot like Google's
  3. 2 + 2 = 5 isn't right
Here's a Bing result that (just happens?) to look a whole lot like a Google result. Coincidences happen, but - the Lemming will get back to that.


(from, used w/o permission)
"At left, Google searched for the correct spelling of 'tarsorrhaphy' even though 'torsoraphy' was entered. Bing manages to list the same Wikipedia entry at the top of its results."

In Microsoft's defense, the Bing text format is a little different from Google's. And two searches describing the same result could plausibly look the same - but then, there's what this fellow at Bing said.

"...'We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results,' [Director of Bing Stefan] Weitz said. 'The overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search so we can provide the most relevant answer to a given query.'..."
Beware Executives Using Big Words?
Maybe that was taken out of context. But when a suit starts using words like "multiple" and particularly "overarching," the Lemming starts suspecting a utilization of prolix syntactical constructions excogitated as a stratagem of obfuscation.

Since one of the Lemming's mottoes is "eschew obfuscation," here's a translation of that into plain(er) English: "...the Lemming starts suspecting a use tediously prolonged of verbal statements (phrases, in other words) thought of as a means of hiding something...."

'Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery,' and Can be Plagiarism

2 + 2 = 5 is Wrong
"Cheating Accusations Highlight Microsoft's Decline"
BizFeed, Business World, PCWorld (February 2, 2011)

"Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's also a popular tactic among those who can't innovate on their own. Such, indeed, has come to be the case for Microsoft, which on Monday was revealed to be copying Google search results for use in its own Bing search engine.

"For those who missed it, Google apparently conducted a 'sting' operation recently by rigging a few select searches to display specific pages in the search results in its own search engine. It then told 20 employees to run the searches on their computers using Internet Explorer with 'Suggested Sites' and the Bing toolbar enabled. Lo and behold, after a few weeks the searches began producing the same results on Bing.

"Microsoft, for its part, has argued that looking at Google's results are just part of how it makes its own results better--a tenuous argument at best for a company that also claims its product offers 'a distinct approach to search.'..."
Bing: Blunder or Bad Luck, 2 + 2 Still Doesn't Equal 5
Google's 'sting' isn't as unfair, in the Lemming's opinion, as it may seem. Bing coming up with the same search results as Google could simply be the result of having a different - but equally-efficient - set of software poring over the same set of data.

It's a little like comparing pocket calculators. When two each say that 2 + 2 = 4, that simply means that they're both doing their job. But when one is rigged to give "5" as a result when someone keys in "2 + 2" - and the other calculator starts giving the same answer - something decidedly suspicious is happening.

That, or a calculator kobold is playing a practical joke. Which is another topic.
Scholarship, Plagiarism, and Remembering the Difference
There's an old saying in academia - 'Copy someone's work and say who you copied it from, that's scholarship. Copy someone's work and say it's yours, that's plagiarism.' Plagiarism is (officially) frowned upon by American colleges and universities. And that's yet another topic, in another blog. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (April 4, 2009))

Back to Bing, Microsoft, and the possibility that Microsoft has - gone soft: Some folks seem to hate Microsoft. The Lemming isn't one of them. Microsoft's DOS and Windows have been the operating system of choice for the Lemming. That's because the Lemming
  • Likes to have an OS that a wide variety of software is designed for
  • Prefers to spend time
    • Using software
    • Not tinkering with a fun OS like Linux
  • Doesn't need to impress anyone by owning
    • An expensive computer
    • With an expensive OS
  • Knows enough about how computers work to make use of Windows' flexibility
The Lemming doesn't hate Linux, Apple, or Macintosh computers, by the way. A business the Lemming did some jobs for used Mac - and there's nothing wrong with the system, as long as it works.

Which isn't, quite, another topic.

The point is, Microsoft has a long history of providing an operating system which, although not perfect, worked. And which developers were free to write applications for. Maybe that's "unfair" of Microsoft. The Lemming thinks it's smart - and that, again, isn't quite another topic.

Bing, which is associated with Microsoft, seems to have had the incredible bad luck to 'just happen' to come up with the same phony search results that Google did. Or, quite possibly, to have been very choosy - and copied from the 800-pound gorilla of search services.

If so, the Lemming thinks it's a case of 'choosy, yes: smart, no.'

"Copying is Not Innovation"

"Microsoft's Bing Caught Copying Google Search Results"
Technology, (February 01, 2011)

"A sting operation by Google reveals that Microsoft has been copying results from Google for its Bing search engine.

"The search giant alleges that Microsoft has been using its Internet Explorer web browser and the Bing Search bar to harvest information on Google users, according to a lengthy report by Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land. Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the search engine's ranking algorithm, was crystal clear about the findings.

" 'Our testing has concluded that Bing is copying Google web search results,' Singhal told

"It's a serious allegation from the world's most popular search engine, a company that takes pride in the quality of its product.

" 'I've spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,' Singhal told Search Engine Land. 'I've got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.'

"Bing, although denying that they outright copy results, and has all but admitted the claim. Director of Bing Stefan Weitz told that the strategy is one of many that Microsoft uses to provide the best search results.

" 'We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results,' Weitz said. 'The overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search so we can provide the most relevant answer to a given query.'..."
Wandering off in the Fog Index
The Lemming's already discussed that "overarching" quote.

This might be a good place to link to a post in someone else's blog about "fog factor." Or, not. Anyway, here it is: The "fog factor" phrase has been around for a long time, and this is just one specific way to measure it: "The fog factor is the average number of polysyllabic words (excluding personal names) per sentence in a sample of 200." ("The Fog Factor," strainindex, Readability Monitor (January 10, 2011))

The Lemming thinks that keeping the "fog factor" low is a good idea. And that obsessively counting how many syllables are in the average sentence - isn't. Maybe because the Lemming's writing exhibits a marked proclivity toward polysyllabic euphony. Polysyllabic, anyway. In the Lemming's opinion.

Which is yet again another topic.

Back to Bing, Microsoft, and Google
"Stupid! Stupid! STUPID!"
And the Lemming is not going to go off on that Wakko's Wish topic.

The Lemming thinks that Bing might, maybe, just possibly, could have come up with the bogus search results Google planted by accident. That Bing 'just happened' to have a search process so effective that it consistently duplicated Google's - and so defective that it 'just happened' to produce the same (bogus) results that Google planted - and so unlucky that Bing's search process came up with the bogus result at the same time that Google planted the bait.

In principle, someone could roll 'lucky seven' 50 times in a row. In practice, when someone rolls 'lucky seven' that consistently - someone's loaded the dice. (more by the Lemming, about odd 'coincidences, in A Catholic Citizen in America (July 12, 2010))

Bing having ranking algorithm that's as good as Google's isn't, in the Lemming's opinion, all that unlikely. Google seems to have smart folks on the staff: but there's no reason to think that all the smart folks on Earth work for Google.

Bing having a ranking algorithm that's as good as Google's - and then comes up with the same wrong answer that Google planted in its results - that's, again in the Lemming's opinion, not very likely.

At all.

Maybe there's an innocent explanation.

But Bing's explanation, that can be rephrased as 'we look at lots of search sites, and only copy from the best' - sounds a trifle daft.

In the Lemming's opinion.

Good grief, just how stupid do they think we are?

Maybe the Lemming doesn't want to know the answer to that.

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