It’s cold in hell today. Well, in my private corner of it anyway.
That’s because my default home page – across all my browsers – was just changed to Microsoft’s Bing.com.
In my world – that’s really big news. I have friends who have responded with utter disbelief.
For the last 24 years I have been, you might say, generally anti-Microsoft. Or rather – I wasn’t impressed with this company that had defaulted, and then bullied it’s way, into ubiquity slightly ahead of availability of vastly better designed systems (cough – Mac OS – cough).
Yes, of course I was, and to a large degree, still am, an Apple fanboy. And yet when I think about the companies that I would prefer to have rule the universe, I have always thought Google makes a slightly more benevolent ruler than either of the former.
Over the last 24 years I repeatedly asserted that the day Microsoft developed a product that is better than Apple, and later Google, that I would have no problem adopting it. And of course that was so easy to say because such a thing had never happened. Like ever.
But for the last month I have been trying Bing, and guess what, it doesn’t suck.
In fact, it doesn’t suck so much that it’s actually really great. Dare I say – the greatest Internet search engine available today.
For over 10 years Google has held the status as the top subject in my private Internet kingdom. The first logo I saw every morning, and the most used internet tool every day. But all that changed today.
Using Bing, it’s pretty obvious that search results are more relevant, videos more immediate, dynamic and easy to navigate, and images are more relevant, numerous and easy to view.
And, gird yourself Google, I’m about to utter an alien phrase… it’s cooler.
Using Bing, I realized that Google, the search engine, just slipped, unceremoniously, into the bottom half of the hour glass as an artifact of a previous time. A time when aesthetics necessarily fell by the wayside in favor of functionality and conservative technical etiquette. Business models had to actually work after the bubble burst- imagine that. And the growing tidal wave of newbie mom and pop internet users were still a little confused by all them thar buttons and interwebs and emails and such. Google’s child-like branding and minimalist (read: mundane) approach to interface design and aesthetics made the company and it’s site friendly and accessible. …Back then.
However, today, Google’s obvious repulsion against anything remotely related to aesthetic beauty or adventurous U.I. has left it with all the design gravitas of a pocket calculator. Yeah, it works, but there is no joy in using, it’s not delightful, it’s not cool.
As a Google corporate outsider it’s hard to tell how much of Google’s home page (and logo) – which has changed glacially in the last decade – was initially accidental or the result of advanced calculation, but in either case it worked at that time, and it’s unlikely that anyone inside Google has been willing to take responsibility for messing with that success by fundamentally refreshing the product’s appearance and behavior.
“DON’T TOUCH IT!” is the more likely conscience on the primary-colored campus.
But technology runs to commodity. And one day you wake up and the only difference between two competing products is aesthetics and an implied lifestyle.
In hindsight, “change it” is something Google needed to do some time ago. Embracing the risk, reward and uncertainty of great design would have given the company a chance. Might have pre-empted Microsoft’s bid altogether. But you don’t write algorithms to do that, you employ artists, and unconventional U.I experts, you trust their intuition and taste, and you relegate to them some directorial control. You don’t drown them in statistics, limitations and testing. That procedurally kills good design.
Look at Apple – the poster-child of industrial design and aesthetics working hand-in-hand with great technology.
Apple gets it. Pretty much always has. Except for maybe when Gil Amelio was there. And it’s not like they don’t do consumer testing. they do – but they value great design. And Google could learn a few things about consumers and marketing from the design powerhouse, if they would just pull away from the ones and zeros long enough to appreciate organic, intuitive creativity. But alas, outside the occasional visiting artist who is paid to perform during the lunch-break (the videos we have all envied), Google does not seem to have any idea how to incorporate the intuitive creative sensibility into it’s products in a meaningful way.
I’m not saying Bing is some design nirvana – it’s far from it. It even shares many similarities with Google. And I’m not saying that it is so advanced that Bing can’t be unseated, but for now, it’s just better than Google. And in the small, small world of search engine powerhouses, that’s all that matters.
I will add that it appeared to be a rather unbecoming defensive move when Google announced an operating system initiative – just as the obvious superiority of Bing’s search over Google’s was settling into the Internet stream of consciousness. Perhaps a bid to steal some of Microsoft’s thunder – or keep them feeling the pressure of an inferiority complex that should be pretty well entrenched at Microsoft by now.
For now, Google’s well documented subservience to testing and data, and it’s aversion to artistic intuition has done it this one infinitesimally small disservice: it has turned at least one staunch Apple Fanboy and Google advocate into a Microsoft convert.
I’m writing this on a Mac. One that has never revealed a positive thing about Microsoft. And I even still want Google, with it’s slightly more trustworthy corporate mission to “do no evil”, to ultimately rule the technical universe. And yet…
Bing is now my home page.
Sorry Google, you have some work to do, Buddy.