My name is Anchel Labena, a 22 year old student and technology enthusiast and tech columnist for Voice of America in Spanish.
I am writing this open letter to you to bring up my growing concerns about the future of your search engine, Bing.
First of all let me clarify that I am indeed a Bing user and have been so even in its old days when it was still named “Kumo”. I even have a Bing t-shirt that I was mysteriously sent to me in Denmark all the way from your campus in Redmond.
And while I really support what you are trying to accomplish with Bing, I have an increasingly long list of complaints that I really need to get out.
You see, I have lived in the United States and I know first hand that many US-based online services offer a lower quality option abroad. I completely understand that situation. After all, fully localizing a product is an expensive task, even more so when it comes to a constantly changing one such as a search engine.
But the total lack of localization of Bing is a complete disaster for the future of the search engine and an embarrassment to the entire Microsoft company. Both in the desktop search market and in the mobile search landscape.
Let me show as an example the following picture comparison:
Bing in the United States (left) and Bing in Denmark (right) – The example of Bing Denmark applies to most countries too.
As can be seen in the pictures, Bing in the US has a lot more features than the Danish site even by just taking a glance at the homepage. Whereas Bing US gets web, images, videos, shopping, news, maps, travel, entertainment and more services hidden under the explore link on the top-left, Danish and most overseas users are left with images, news and more only. And the more link simply takes them to an embarrassingly empty page that just adds a link to Microsoft Translator.
The MORE page in Bing Belgium
Not only that, but Bing US also includes some niceties in its homepage that are completely missing in other countries. For example: each day the Bing US homepage shows a new picture that, when hovering the mouse on it, shows some interesting facts and related searches that are usually very fun to read. Overseas, these facts simply don’t exist. In Bing US you get a “popular searches” box that works in a similar fashion to Twitter’s trending topics. Overseas you don’t. Bing US has a really nice Facebook integration that enhances the search results by displaying friend search results or if your friends liked a link. Overseas? Of course not.
This list could go on forever with many features like the search history, the flight search, the related searches, the weather reports…
But the most incomprehensible and pointless missing feature overseas is that Bing US and Bing overseas HAVE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SEARCH ENGINES.
I am not talking about Bing showing local results in a different language for different countries. I am talking about how Bing in the US has a constantly improving search engine, always trying to provide more relevant results and more interactive experiences while overseas we get pretty much the same search engine that was offered in 2007 with Live Search.
Again, this is best shown with a picture example:
As you can see, Bing US detected I was looking for the weather in Madrid, so it automatically showed me as the first result a weather aggregate from several sites. Even more, the Weather tab appeared that takes you to a nice-looking, more detailed weather page with lots of links to more precise reports:
If you do the same search in Bing Spain for example, the resulting experience is nowhere close:
This situation repeats itself in several other searches. Let’s try some entertainment-related searches:
Inception: Notice how Bing US brought up IMDB’s user rating, direct links to watch on Netflix and Hulu, rent or buy on iTunes and Zune, and even a direct link to the trailer. If you scroll down the page you get even more rich results from Apple and Microsoft websites, and even news results that are related to the movie. Bing Norway didn’t even bring the movie Inception among the first three results.
iPad: A search for Apple’s tablet solution brings up a very complete box that not only shows links to all the related iPad pages on Apple’s own website, but it also lets you search within Apple.com without leaving Bing. Even better, it shows links to several shopping pages where you can find the best deal for the product. I tried the same in Bing Sweden, and the results were disheartening, besides the fact that Bing Sweden even lacks the sidebar with related searches.
The differences go on and on in pretty much every search area, with some really interesting features like the Entertainment searches being sorely missed abroad.
While I am in the topic of these rich experiences, let me dive into the topic of Bing Maps.
It is absolutely unacceptable that Bing Maps doesn’t turn up correct results when looking for the name of a street. Even less so when using the mobile version of Bing. Of course, Bing US will show the exact location of pretty much every street, store, movie theater or anything. It even has a very compelling Facebook Friends search that locates your friends on the map, or the Tweets in the area you are zoomed in to. But searching for the street Studiestræde or the metro station Nørreport in Copenhagen, Denmark, showed no results at all. One could think that this is because these names have Danish-specific characters, but streets without them also have the same problem.
The Bing US Maps showing real-time tweets in Manhattan – Of course Bing Overseas doesn’t even have a Bing Maps page.
Bing Denmark cannot even find a metro station that is clearly shown in the map, instead taking users to Australia
Summing up, while the US is getting an incredibly strong Bing offer (and the market share analysis show that Bing is doing very well over there, with a 30% of the market and going up), the rest of the world is getting mixed situations. Bing in the UK is the most acceptable of them all, but every other country gets a “Beta” version of Bing (which is even shown literally as a beta under the Bing logo). Not just a beta, but a broken service that is nowhere close to what the US is offered.
I understand that these things take time and money, but Bing has been out there for well over a year, and while the US version has significantly improved in every imaginable way, everyone else gets the same outdated experience that was offered years ago.
I have already had to listen to countless comments from friends saying “why do I use Bing”. Everyone tells me that they hate Bing because it turns up irrelevant results and that the experience feels empty. Of course these are European users that do not even know what Bing has to offer when you simply switch the country to the United States in the preferences.
Microsoft, by delaying a proper version of Bing to the entire world you are only causing a total distrust into the brand. By the time you finally release the full experience, if you ever plan on doing so, people will be so fed up with the current state of the search engine that nobody will even bother to give it a try, with their minds still set on Bing as a terribly lackluster competition attempt against Google.
I like Bing. I really do. But I always have to keep it with the US settings every time I install a new browser or use a different computer. I have to use Google Maps when I try to search for a street in a European city. I stop looking for shopping items in Bing because it shows no offers at all from European dealers…
Please Microsoft, get it right this time. Markets evolve as companies struggle to offer better solutions to their clients. Right now in Europe Google is the only option. Bing isn’t an option in Europe the way it is right now.