Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Surprised by Live Search

I use Live Search as my web search engine of choice, but every so often I need to use Google to find the information I'm really looking for. I was really looking for a site that gave me good side-by-side results from both engines - kind of like how dogpile.com used to work in the old days (I was surprised to find dogpile.com still alive and doing search compilation, but I really wanted a side-by-side view from only my two preferred engines).

Recently, as part of an internal Microsoft initiative, I found exactly what I was looking for - a site that runs the searches in parallel and presents them side-by-side. As a bonus, you get to vote on which engine performed better. I've been using this as my default search engine on all my machines for the last few days and I'm already pretty surprised at how often Live Search comes up with far superior answers. I guess I never paid to attention to comparative relevance and quality until it was presented to me in such an 'in-your-face' manner. Of course, there are still many searches where Google trumps Live Search. Anecdotally, I'd say I prefer Live Search about 60-70% of the time, but maybe that's just me (and it could well be my inherent bias for Microsoft products).

One aspect that simply blew me away was Live Search's ability to fetch answers for very specific things I was looking for. A lot of these are powered by something Live Search calls 'Instant Answers'. A few samples from queries I performed over the last week where I was really impressed by Live Search:

- seahawks schedule vs seahawks schedule
- highest peak in the US vs highest peak in the US
- calories in beer vs calories in beer
- president of somalia vs president of somalia
- Colt McCoy vs Colt McCoy

These were just some of the searches I ran last week - the Instant Answers site has other query formats you can try (incidentally, I didn't know about Instant Answers or the formats until just two days ago). One place where Google still beats Live Search hands down is showing inline maps and directions. I use this fact to give a lot of sh*t to a friend of mine who works on Live Maps - maybe one of these days I'll annoy him enough to make him go fix this stuff! ;)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bill & Jerry, and A Lame Blog Post

You've probably seen the new Microsoft Windows TV ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. The second in the series showed up last night.

When I first heard that Jerry Seinfeld was signed for the ad campaign, I wasn't really sure if he would appeal to the current generation (and I'm not sure he does). I'm a Seinfeld fan though, so I was curious what the campaign would be like. I have to be honest - the ads were completely not what I was expecting. FWIW, not many in the company had seen the ads before they were shown publicly - at least, I hadn't.

Anyways, it seems like the ads have people talking. From what I've read, the reaction seems to be neutral to leaning negative - I think people were expecting a more direct retort to Apple's Mac vs PC ads. Personally, I found the ads pretty amusing. Subtle humor, no direct attacks and entertaining. I think Bill easily outshines Jerry in both ads so far. I had seen Bill Gates act in silly videos at company meetings before, plus in his last day at Microsoft video, so I knew he can do a decent job but I didn't think he could out-do Seinfeld. There are subtle references to Microsoft products and technologies throughout the ads - pretty funny for someone close to Microsoft but I can see how pretty much everyone else might miss it. From the coverage the campaign has gotten and the pervasiveness of the ad spots, I'm pretty impressed with how much buzz the campaign has already generated. A lot of critics have complained that the ad hardly mentioned Microsoft or Windows... does it really need to, though? Bill Gates == Microsoft == Windows. No more logos/information needed.

Knowing nothing other than what I've seen on TV so far, I think this will definitely be a long-remembered ad campaign. It looks like its going to be one of those hugely successful or hugely miserable ad campaigns. Of course, given that work @ Microsoft I hope it's successful.

I wonder how many CEOs have featured in ads. I can remember a few in recent times - Chrysler, Sprint, Ford. None of those had the CEO doing comedy, though. CEOs, especially founder-CEOs, have huge brand appeal and brand recognition so they seem to be a natural fit for come-back type ads. I hope Microsoft has better success than Ford, Chrysler and Sprint are having currently, though.

Given the buzz around the ads, I was kinda annoyed when David Webster from Microsoft, who's apparently running this campaign, posted an entry on his blog trying to justify the ads - the text of the post just reeks of defensiveness. If you're ballsy enough to sanction $300 million for an ad campaign, there's no need to put up a blog post trying to justify it even before the entire campaign has run its course. His tone sounds like he's trying to save his job already - where's the confidence, man? Super lame, Mr David Webster. I think you should've just kept quiet and let the campaign do the talking (or not, if they don't succeed).