Sep 8

Google Instant & Microsoft’s Innovation Failure

Google’s shouting loudly today about it’s new almost-as-fast-as-you-think Instant ( search powers, and it is indeed clever albeit similar to working with Google in your Chrome browser address bar but with more info displayed. But did you know that a programmer worked out how to do this with Microsoft Bing in August 2009! Could Bing have beaten Google to market?

The clever geeky search guru is a young Australian named Long Zheng. A year ago, he wrote a front-end engine for Microsoft’s own search engine, using existing APIs and coding tricks, that does almost exactly the same sort of “updating as you type” tricks that Instant does on Google. Check it out by clicking this link (, and entering any old search phrase that comes to mind. Zheung developed this Web browser app that enables Bing to load full results pages, including images, as the user types in a query without having to refresh the screen or the user to press the enter key. It anticipates what a Bing user really wants to search for, much as Google Instant does, and it apparently took him just a few hours to build the app, which he dubbed Real Live Search (below).

But here’s the problem: Zheng provided this idea to Bing and Microsoft last year, effectively for free, the company’s exec team noticed it, then they ignored it. Microsoft has huge R&D $, thousands of smart programmers, huge server farms, and experts in search on staff and they too could’ve come up with clever ways to upscale the system for their millions of users, and totally beaten Google to the punch. But … they didn’t and as a result they lost out on a huge opportunity to innovate.

Microsoft has demonstrated the abilty to innovate in the past – just look at Windows 3.11 and 95 did for the operating system, Internet Explorer did for web browsing and then of course the Xbox 360/XboxLive. While those accomplishments aren’t insignificant, the problem with Microsoft is that they are few and far between. Instead of success stories, more often than not we see the company either wimping out or just releasing something far after it’s relevant and this time it may have cost them too much.

Innovation Impact:

Leveraging the 10 types of innovation that I tweeted about on Aug 24 the below list identifies how Google innovated and what Microsoft has lost:

  1. Core process, Product Offering performance & Customer Experience Delivery: Even if you think Instant is a gimmick, using it really is a transformational Web experience. It absolutely does make searching for something on the Internet rather surprising and possibly even fun. And it does reduce the effort of searching for something.
  2. Business model & Partner value chain : Now that Google shows results automatically with each letter typed, the traditional definition of an impression is being stretched to the max. Impressions are no longer measured only by searches and clicks, in the Instant era, it also counts if a user stops typing, and results are displayed for three seconds or more–the length of pause to take a sip of coffee or … sneeze. Impressions are also now garnered from predicted queries, related searches, hitting the “Search” button, and even spell corrections. In the competitive market of impressions and advertising dollars this has the largest potential benefit to Google and its partners.

The question remains why Microsoft failed to execute on this innovation. As an outsider to Microsoft it’s difficult to know but as a thought contributor on innovation and looking at previous Microsoft attempts, I would categorize it into the 4 buckets below:

  1. Innovation is hardTurning ideas into commercially viable products and services is as much about luck and timing as it is about brilliance – although when it is handed to you on a silver platter a year before your largest competitor it is most likely one of the below issues.
  2. Consumers don’t care about strategy – that’s right, customers don’t care if you have a vision. All they want is for your service or product to make their life easier and not that you will have a specific capability or feature available in version X at some future date (ie: upcoming Bing HTML 5/IE 9 launch).
  3. Risk aversion – one of the worst habits all organizations get into is that of not taking any risks, which translates into not supporting individuals who think outside the box. If it’s not been done before you need to be agile to perform the market analysis (patent searches, etc) and execute.
  4. Bigger isn’t betterIt’s simply tougher for a large company to sustain rapid growth through innovation – while it is tough to balance shareholder value sometime you have to look beyond the generation of big sales $.


Google (through Instant) is continuing to focus on their core business to further dominate that space and reap the advantages of executing on search and other search service innovations making it likelier than ever that Microsoft and its Bing search technology will have major difficulties competing.

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