Bing Vs. Google: A Weeklong Experiment

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic and news analyst for Weekend All Things Considered, talks to Michele Norris about his weeklong experiment using the search engine Bing instead of Google to help him track down facts for his latest Atlantic article.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris and it's time now for All Tech Considered.

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NORRIS: Today, we begin with the battle between Microsoft and Google for the Internet search market. It's not an even fight, Google still controls 65 percent of the U.S. market. But Microsoft has struck a deal with Yahoo that allows Bing to become the search engine for all Yahoo sites. In other words, it's on.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine and a news analyst for WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. He is also an avid Google user. So, he has decided to conduct a weeklong experiment where he has only been using Bing to help him track down facts for a new article. And he joins us to tell us about that. Welcome to the program.

JAMES FALLOWS: Thanks very much.

NORRIS: Well, first, tell me, what are you writing about?

FALLOWS: It's about some of the military aspects of U.S.-Chinese interactions, that's something I chose not to write about when I was looking at China for the past three years.

NORRIS: So, serious stuff.

FALLOWS: Yes, I have been looking mainly for facts, which is 95 percent or so of the searches I do. I realize that some people spend a lot more time looking for shopping online but for me it's mainly just getting the data.

NORRIS: What prompted this experiment to try to do this only by using Bing?

FALLOWS: Part of it is sheer sort of frittering and playfulness. I have always liked seeing what is the new tech thing. And when Bing first came out earlier this year I did give it a try then, too. But recently there was an article where some Internet people were concerned about new privacy issues with Google. So, I thought well this is another occasion just to try out the alternative.

NORRIS: So, you've tried it out. What did you learn?

FALLOWS: I will confess that I started cheating about halfway through. There is a marvelous site which allows you to compare Google and Bing search results for different queries. I started doing that after a few days because I suspected there were things that I wasn't getting with Bing. Now the truth is�

NORRIS: Also that you didn't trust Bing.

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FALLOWS: You know, it's the old trust but verify, one of many principles I learned from Ronald Reagan. Compared to what humanity had available five years ago or even two years ago either of these systems or any that are available are certainly light years ahead of what we were able to find and you can find things you're looking for if you wait long enough with some exceptions. For example, neither of these systems would let me find out which senators voted for and against the Panama Canal Treaty back in 1977, which is a separate issue. But I thought I was missing some things with Bing. So, I did this comparison engine. I found that actually that was so.

NORRIS: You know, the interesting thing about Google is they seem to offer you choices like if you like this there's, you know, they will give you options to look for other kinds of searches. Do they do the same thing with Bing?

FALLOWS: Yes. And Bing in a way is more customized if you're doing say more commerce online. And although I didn't go down that path, they do seem to have more�

NORRIS: You mean shopping?

FALLOWS: Yes, exactly. I mean shopping that would help - plainer your way.

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FALLOWS: Both of my sons are in the online commerce business. So, that word has been grooved in my brain. So, for shopping Bing probably has some features. For facts, I found certain kind of odd lapses in its coverage. For example, I was looking for a particular article in The Washington Post that I knew existed. And I simply couldn't find it via Bing. Also a one - I was looking for the URL of an article I had written in The Atlantic to send it to somebody and it didn't come up very easily on Bing.

NORRIS: So, is this a matter of you have to put things in quotation marks or you have to spell them out very clearly or Bing just doesn't capture everything?

FALLOWS: Well, I'm sure that any of these search systems - it's a matter of sort of learning how it works. And again, you can find almost anything if you really look and by habituation I'm used over the years to how Google works. I haven't yet become as accustomed to Bing. Also I had the sense that probably the whole corpus of information that Google has under its belt, it seems to be larger than the corpus that's available to other engines now.

NORRIS: So, is Bing among your favorites or are you going back to what's most comfortable?

FALLOWS: Well, I retain, of course, an open mind. I'm in favor of competition on all things, but actually the site I have decided to spend much more time on is one called Bing-versus-Google, which lets you run side by side searches of anything you come up with. And that actually is a great way essentially to make up for the lapses in any of the systems.

NORRIS: In the end can you actually say that you actually completed the article using only Bing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FALLOWS: I can say I started down that path resolved to use only Bing.

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NORRIS: Okay, all right. So, it's all about the destination.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FALLOWS: Yes.

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NORRIS: Not the journey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: James Fallows, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you.

NORRIS: James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. He is also a news analyst for WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And we should note that the article he wrote using Bing will appear in the March issue of The Atlantic magazine.

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