UW search expert ‘disappointed’ with Microsoft Bing’s progress

bingIn 2008, Oren Etzioni sold his airfare price predictor startup Farecast to Microsoft. The Redmond software giant took the technology from Farecast and it became the basis for the price prediction engine in Microsoft Bing Travel.

Fast forward five years later, and Etzioni isn’t exactly impressed with the work that’s come out of Bing.

“What is Bing doing, period? So many smart people, so many resources,” said Etzioni, speaking to the crowd at the Startup Grind event in Seattle Wednesday night. “What have they rolled out that makes a difference?”

Afterwards, in an interview, he said he didn’t mean to use such strong language, and offered this take on the search engine.

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Startup vet Oren Etzioni (left) shared stories and advice with Michael Grabham and the Startup Grind crowd Wednesday evening.

“It’s fair to say that I would have expected more [from Bing] during the past few years,” said Etzioni, a co-founder of Seattle startup Decide.com. “I am disappointed with, given how many smart people are there, how little has come out and I’m hoping that [with] the new re-org [it] will make a difference.”

Etzioni, a computer science professor at the University of Washington whose research interests include intelligence, web search, machine reading and machine learning, said that he “expects the best” from Bing with the talent and resources available.

Part of the problem, he offered, is the workflow at Microsoft.

“I would like to see less in-fighting and just faster processes for getting stuff out,” he said.

Bing remains a distant second to Google in the search market, but Microsoft has been trying to expand Bing’s scope beyond a traditional search engine by incorporating the brand into other products, such as Xbox Live. In addition, the company has integrated Bing more tightly with Windows 8.1, and made underlying Bing data available for third-party developers to use in their apps. In terms of market share, the latest monthly report from comScore showed Bing with 17.9 percent of the search market, while Google was at 66.7 percent.

sirismallEtzioni, who is also the founder and director of the UW’s Turing Center, also touched on what he thinks about the future of search. He predicted that within the next couple of years we’ll see much more powerful mobile semantic search.

“Google Now and Siri aren’t nearly as powerful as they should be,” he said. “I was really excited about Siri but now, two years later, it hasn’t really improved. Given Apple’s resources, it’s really disappointing, in large measures because the problems are hard.”

Etzioni added that he has high ambitions for search engines to take the next step and actually become what he calls “decision engines.” He brought up the example of planning for travel where you could express a set of personal preferences and then receive tangible possibilities.

“We are starting to see this, but the point is that I want search engines to find much more interesting answers to much more ambitious queries than just finding URLs,” he said. “That’s what search is today, but it shouldn’t be what search is tomorrow.”

Previously on GeekWire: Advice from startup vet Oren Etzioni: Take intellectual risks 

  • Guest

    He’s right. Bing has produced precious little innovations, which is ridiculous given the $ invested. But then that’s the story of MS generally. Huge dollars invested, little return. No wonder MS can’t make progress against Google.

  • Guest

    Yet another credible source confirming MS’s inability to compete, which the board will proceed to ignore, as they have all previous ones.

    Fire Ballmer. Fire the board. Start over.