Friday, September 11, 2009 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Microsoft's Bing Leads in Bringing Social Functionality to Search

Microsoft is making a major push to integrate social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter into its Bing search engine: users will soon be able to "Ping" search results they like to their friends directly from Bing. Back in January, in "Google, the Innovator's Dilemma and the Future of Search & Web Ads," I talked about the implications of this history of search from the WSJ):

Microsoft missed its opportunities to get into paid search not because it was "dumb," "uninnovative" or a "bad" company, but for the same sorts of reasons that big, highly successful and even particularly innovative companies fail. The reasons companies generally succeed in mastering "adaptive" innovation of the technologies behind their established business models are the very reasons why such great companies struggle to encourage or channel the "disruptive" innovation that renders their core technologies and business models obsolete. This dynamic was described brilliantly in Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen's classic 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail...

Let's hope that Microsoft--as well as Yahoo!--have carefully studied the vast literature produced by business schools in the wake of Christensen's book about how big companies can avoid the Innovator's Dilemma by promoting--and capitalizing on--radical innovation from within. Indeed, this seems to be precisely what has guided Google's own strategy as it has grown from "disruptive innovator" to become the very sort of behemoth that cannot easily escape the Dilemma, even if corporate managers are fully aware of the problem on a theoretical level. If Google can do it, Microsoft should be able to, too. But let's also not discount the possibility that, no matter how hard Google's management might try to retain the innovative culture of a start-up, the giant can't do that well enough to prevent its own apparent market dominance from being disrupted by new upstart innovators in search and advertising technologies.

My prediction seems to be coming true: Microsoft, with less to lose and without a huge installed user base to worry about annoying by violating Google's "Prime Directive" of elegant simplicity, may have an easier time introducing "disruptive" innovations to search than Google. Of course, it's unlikely that any one feature will prove the "killer app" that suddenly causes Bing's market share to explode--and Google's to plummet--but a steady stream of such nifty features could convince many users to switch to Bing.

At 29, I'm old enough to remember when Microsoft seemed as cool as Google does today. Hell, I remember being thrilled as a sophomore in high school by Bill Gates' 1995 book The Road Ahead and the accompanying CD-ROM (which included, as I recall, a tour of Gates's ultra-futuristic home). If Microsoft can "get its mojo back," the company could truly become a web services provider to rival Google. We'd all benefit from having more choices in search engines, advertising platforms and related tools. And, driving each other to "build a better mousetrap," the two companies could lead us down the "Road Ahead" from Search 2.0 to Search 3.0 and beyond. So here's to hoping that Redmond can solve the "Innovator's Dilemma" with tools like Google's "20 percent" time that free engineers to innovate!

posted by Berin Szoka @ 12:13 PM | Advertising & Marketing , Antitrust & Competition Policy , Innovation