Google-Microsoft search rivalry heats up

Companies take the fight to real-time search, signing deals with Twitter, Facebook

The ongoing search war between Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. is intensifying as the companies battle to outpace each other in real-time search.

In a dance of timing yesterday, both companies announced major real-time search deals at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

First, Microsoft stole the spotlight Wednesday morning when it announced deals with both Twitter and Facebook that call for the social networks' status updates to be included in the results of searches conducted with Microsoft's Bing search engine. And with conference chatter focusing how long it would take Google to sign a deal like that, Google came out later in the day to announce a deal of its own -- but just with Twitter, not Facebook.

"These deals up the ante in the search wars, giving both Microsoft and Google new weapons to deploy against each other," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "Since they both have deals with Twitter, there's parity there and it becomes a matter of execution -- which search engine does the best job of sifting through Twitter for the results the user wants?"

Microsoft offered few details about its deal with Facebook; Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft's Online Audience business, was more forthcoming about the deal with Twitter.

Mehdi said the deal with the microblogging service will integrate tweets into Bing's search results. Microsoft's search engine also will rank tweets according to how relevant they are to the specific query. Bing also will be set up to pull out any URLs listed in the tweets so they can be listed separately.

Bing's real-time Twitter search went up in beta yesterday.

Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products, announced that the company will be integrating tweets into its own search results.

Mayer didn't offer many details about the Twitter deal; she spoke more about a different, though related, announcement. She noted that in a few weeks, Google will launch a service called Social Search in Google Labs. Social Search is designed to enable users to search for tweets and blogs written by their friends and the people whom their friends follow.

"We came up with a way to have social networks influence your search results. If you're signed into Social Search, you get content from your friends," she said in an interview with Computerworld. "If you do a search for a restaurant, you'll see regular search results, plus it's supplemented with what your friends have had to say about it."

Mayer said users will be able to fill out a Google Profile through which they will link to their friends on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social networks. If they use Gmail, Google will have access to their contacts.

"You opt in to using Social Search and then we look at who your friends are and what content they might be publishing," she added.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said this latest salvo in the search war between Google and Microsoft comes down to relevancy.

"Were one to connect to a social media site the other missed, it would create the impression that one was out of the loop," he said. "It's mostly image. Microsoft is aggressively trying to make Google look out of step and slow. Google is working frantically to ensure Microsoft is not successful in this effort."

At the moment, Enderle said, it appears that Google is chasing Microsoft, and such a situation typically does not bode well for any market leader. He added that it also suggests that Google has lost focus on its core technology.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., said he's not sure how excited people will be to search for Facebook status updates, but it looks bad for Google to be without that connection.

"Even if it turns out that Facebook results aren't that important, the fact that Facebook is available through one search engine and not the other will cause some Facebook users to at least try Bing," he said. "Google would prefer there not be a reason to give Bing a try."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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