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! ;)

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