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October 06, 2005

Using Our Own Products

At the company meeting, David Cole from MSN mentioned in his talk that every time we clicked on a Google search ad they got some number of cents, and every time we searched for a florist on Google and then clicked on the result they got some (higher) number of cents, and that by doing this we were sending money down to a competitor that they could use to compete against us.

Now in general I'm opposed to this sort of official opprobrium. I heard a rumor that a certain jeans company wouldn't let people wear jeans from their rivals to work. OK, so you can strongarm your employees into wearing your stuff. But what does it mean when employees buy your competitors' products. Doesn't it mean your products need to be improved? And shouldn't you welcome the immediate feedback you get? Rather than surrounding yourself with "yes-consumers", you should let people use what they want...and then when they use your stuff, it means something.

I also don't like the "don't send money to our competitors" argument. Shoot, we own like 3 iPods and an iMac, I use CorelDraw for editing, I buy books by various competitors of Microsoft Press (not to mention publishing with one). Heck, I run Firefox as my browser, although I guess that doesn't involve money. Anyway I probably make dozens of decisions every day that indirectly affect Microsoft's bottom line in a small way. Does this airline that uses Microsoft for its backend servers? Does that restaurant run Windows on its cash registers? Is all the Microsoft software at my doctor's office properly licensed? Who knows. Yes, I'm an employee and shareholder of Microsoft, but I'm also a consumer and I feel free to exercise my right to dispense my money (or my eyeball impressions) as I want.

At the same time, however, Cole has a point. When people choose to buy an iPod they are presumably actively choosing it for its features. Meanwhile when you go to Google and search on "florist Redmond WA" you are generally NOT looking for a specific florist, so the results from MSN Search should be just as good as the ones from Google (and they certainly appear to be so). Plus, I personally tend to be a lazy geek, who will probably continue using Firefox for a couple of years after Internet Explorer passes it in functionality (if it does). So you could view Cole's comment as a nudge to stop people from reflexively using Google, and give MSN Search a chance.

But I still didn't like his appeal to use it because of the money involved. I'm perfectly happy to use Microsoft software if asked--I'm on the Exchange 12 beta, I run nightly stress on Windows Vista, etc. So I'd find a request to use MSN Search more appealing (and less tacky) if it were just "Hey, our search is really good now, come give it a try...oh and as a side effect you may steer a couple of bucks our way instead of down south."

Posted by AdamBa at October 6, 2005 10:10 PM

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I'd venture to say that Google's end-to-end user experience blows MSN's out of the water.

1. Search both for "florist Redmond WA". Now click through the first Google local result for "Redmond Floral". You get hours, payments, service options, REVIEWS, and a whole other slew of information that MSN doesn't. And if you want to get picky, MSN ads take up more space on the page than Google ads.

2. Click through to get driving directions. After all, you want to know where to go to pick up your flowers. MSN Maps & Directions is plastered with banner ads and is a horrible user experience. Google shows no ads once you are looking at or getting driving directions to a specific local search result, and the experience is far superior (yes, the latter is subjective, but would anyone debate this?)

I think people choose search engines for their "features" just like they choose the iPod for its "features". And iPod is case in point that features also include user experience, trust in quality of the service/product, etc. Saying choice in search engine is irrelevant if the results are the same is like saying choice in mp3 player is irrelevant if the music library is the same.

For what it's worth, I try to use MSN services as much as possible. But until there's parity with Google (i.e. as long as Google provides a better service), I'm going to continue to use Google - and it's probably better for Microsoft if I do.

Posted by: Adam Herscher at October 7, 2005 12:23 AM

Somethig just hit me when reading your blog today and that is the term "MSN Search" is really lousy for the average consumer. People can remember I'm going to "google" something or go look for it on google. Just like yahoo or when it was something, dogpile. It may sound stupid but I think that splitting it into two words "MSN Search" is harder for people to remember. Where do they go? My mother isn't going to take the time to remember the url. Google is easy to remember for her. If anything she might go to google and search for msn search :)

Posted by: Richard Threlkeld at October 7, 2005 08:44 AM

The problem at MS vs., say, the jeans company is that MS is a competitor (in some way or another) in practically any IT-related market, and certainly all software. If you're told not to use a competitor's product (whether in a or-you're-fired way or an official frown way), how are you ever going to work on a side project, whether for money or fun? Almost anything you write could also be seen as a competing product to something or other. Nevermind the vagaries of ip protection for the actual code.

At least the guy at the jeans factory can wear something besides jeans. Until the owner decided they were competing against all possible clothes in the market.

Posted by: DonD at October 7, 2005 11:20 AM

Adam: I'm not saying that choice is irrelevant in search engines...just that for me personally, when searching for a florist I don't care. It sounds like you are a more sophisticated consumer of search-found florists than me. Which is fine for you and then you're right, keep using Google until MSN Search improves.

Richard: I've thought MSN Search should try to buy search.com from CNET (I'm sure they've tried). They do own msnsearch.com. But it's true that it would be unlikely to enter the popular culture as a verb the way Google has, then again who could have predicted that (I don't recall people saying "I'll go Yahoo that" or "I'll go Lycos that" in the old days).

Don: Well, imagine you worked at Levi's which also made Dockers...so pretty much most casual pants you would wear have a Levi's version. But I agree, which was my point -- Microsoft competes with so many companies that trying to generally say "Don't use our competitors" is silly. After all we use our competitors internally for some stuff.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at October 7, 2005 11:31 AM

While flowers might be a few cents, other ads can earn google $$. For example, if you do a search for "lung cancer asbestos", word on the street is that the ads displayed earn google about $20-50 per click. Dollars. Not cents.

Posted by: Dennis T Cheung at October 7, 2005 03:19 PM

I have been slowly making the switch from Google to MSN Search in an effort to dogfood our own stuff. I even changed my blog's search to use MSN instead, moved my 'home page' to start.com, and changed my browser shortcuts to point to MSN now.

Overall, it's been painless. I find MSN's search to be pretty close to (and sometimes better than) Google, but the real stopper for me is that we don't have a USENET search yet.

Posted by: Steve at October 8, 2005 07:55 AM