It’s perhaps one of the strangest product pitches I’ve heard. Asked on stage at Web 2.0 Summit by John Battelle about his Bing search engine, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer encouraged the audience to try Bing because, well, it’s pretty much the same as Google.
The Ballmer 70/15/15 Challenge
“I would issue you all a kind of challenge to try any search you want on Bing and Google,” Ballmer said, explaining that 70% of the time, there won’t be any difference in the results, that 15% of the time, Bing will be better and 15% of the time, Google will be better.
Now, if Ballmer had said that maybe 20% of the time Bing would be better, that would have given it perhaps some advantage over Google. But saying your product is exactly the same as someone else’s isn’t a real incentive, much less a ringing endorsement.
Ballmer did allude to there being things beyond the search results, such user interface differences. But he didn’t stress these as huge, major reasons to change.
Bing: “Getting Stronger”
Asked how Bing is doing versus three years ago, when Battelle last spoke with Ballmer at Web 2.0 about the service, Ballmer said “it’s getting stronger every day” and noted that Bing’s share had risen from 7% to 15%, which was “a nice rise.”
“We went from the number three player to the number two player,” Ballmer continued, explaining that when Bing’s share is combined with that of Yahoo, which Bing provides with results, the two have a 25% to 30% share of the search market in the US.
Ballmer added that beyond market share, the Microsoft-Yahoo alliance is important for “providing enough data to improve the product.”
Ballmer On Yahoo
Was Ballmer happy the plans for Microsoft to buy Yahoo in 2008 for $44-45 billion didn’t go through? “Times change, times change,” he laughed, adding later, “You get lucky sometimes.”
Ballmer went on to say that Yahoo was a great partner, with a huge audience and lots of good things about it, which is why the alliance with Yahoo is important.
Indeed, so important that Microsoft is providing revenue guarantees for an additional year than was originally agreed, to make up for poor monetization that’s plagued the partnership, news that came out during Yahoo’s earning call a few hours before Ballmer’s talk.
No Microsoft+ Coming
In other questions, Ballmer declined to say if Microsoft would launch a social network to rival the likes of Facebook, instead pointing to things like Xbox Live and Windows Live as examples of how Microsoft has “picked its play” in the social space.
Siri Nice; Android Phones Are For Computer Scientists
As for mobile, Ballmer said “there’s certainly some nice things Apple has done with Siri” in terms of its voice recognition and lookup but suggested that Windows Phone and Bing would build on Microsoft’s long-standing previous work in the space and be better.
On Google and mobile, Ballmer got perhaps his biggest laugh of the interview:
“You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone, but I think you do to use an Android phone.”