Why would you switch search engines?

Why would you switch search engines?

  • Comments 17

Stéphane asks why any one would switch from Google given that it has become such a part of net culture.

People will switch for a faster time-to-answer.

Recently I needed to find the Microsoft Knowledge Base article that explained why you shouldn't run IE components (such as MSHTML) inside a server process. I knew the KB existed, but I didn't have the URL off-hand and I needed to send it to a co-worker.

That meant I needed to search for it, and like everyone else in the world I first went to Google, but it didn't answer my question directly. Below I have added some additional "analysis" for your enjoyment.

My search query, stated in the most natural way (at least for me), is "Why can't I run MSHTML on the server?"

Here are the results for some common search engines:

· Google -- Some interesting hits, but nothing looks good (note I'm only skimming titles, not the excerpts)

· Yahoo -- Pretty much the same as Google

· MSN -- Pretty much the same as Google

· MSN (Beta) -- LOL! My Firefox blog comes up first, for no apparent reason!

· Microsoft -- My mum always said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"

OK, so that didn't work.

I decided that natural language isn't going to work, and I also remembered that the KB tends to specifically talk about ASP (rather than servers in general) so I rephrase my question to "MSHTML ASP not supported":

· Google -- Nope

· Yahoo -- Nope

· MSN -- Nope

· MSN (Beta) -- Some interesting-looking results, but nope

· Microsoft -- It's the last result on the first page, but it's there: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;244085

As you can see, none of the engines are perfect (and really, Microsoft's search of its own web site should be able to do better...). Admittedly, we could do a much better job with our metadata in KB articles to match "expected" search queries, but ideally the technology should work for us, not the other way around.

Searching aimlessly wastes time, and time is money. I wasted (say) five minutes of my time getting this query for my co-worker, since I had tried several variations and followed several dead-ends before hitting success with "MSHTML ASP not supported". Note that in this case I knew exactly what I was looking for, so I only had to scan the titles. Imagine if I had had to click on every single link returned by every search result to determine if it was what I wanted or not? I could have wasted hours.

Now imagine if every Microsoft employee spent five minutes a day on searching. That's about fifty thousand people times five minutes, or...

·250,000 minutes; or

·4,167 hours; or

·174 days; or

·25 weeks; or

·6 months

That's unbelievable -- we'd lose six person-months of productivity every single day if each employee spent five minutes on a simple search task. Obviously, there are other things we lose much more than six person-months of productivity on every day... like toilet breaks... but they're somewhat unavoidable.

If there was a search engine that could translate a natural-language search to the correct result the first time, every time, Microsoft (and every other company on the planet) would save a boat-load of cash because their employees would be more productive. And it's not just about the evil money-grabbing corporations, either. Say you have a screaming baby or a bleeding nose or a leaking toilet and you want to make it stop. Would you rather get the answer in five minutes, or in five seconds? :-) [Google, Yahoo, MSN, MSN (Beta), Microsoft - LOL]

I'm not saying that Microsoft (or anyone else, for that matter) could ever solve this problem, but the point is that people will switch to a better product. Remember when DEC's AltaVista was the search engine back in the day? I even had their version of "desktop search" installed on my home machine almost a decade ago... the more things change, the more they stay the same.

[Oh and please don't bother posting any comments about "switching to a better product" and Firefox... I already know what you're going to say ;-) ]

  • The lost person-days is actually more drastic than you have surmised. You appear to have made a common error when calculating the lost time, and that is that people will work 24*7*365. In reality, this just doesn't happen. If you factor a 8 hour work day, 40 hour work week and 50 week working year you get:

    ·250,000 minutes; or

    ·4,167 hours; or

    ·521 days; or

    ·104 weeks; or

    ·25 months; or

    ·2 years 1 month

    This is the actual work time lost. This is a remarkable amount of productivity lost to such a trivial task.
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