Bing vs. Google face-off, round 2
The way we left things yesterday, we gave Microsoft's newly revamped Bing search engine some moderately tough, everyday search tests, and gave Google the same treatment. After three heats, the score thus far is Bing 2, Google 1, with Bing performing quite admirably in the computer parts shopping department.
Search engines are fairly good for finding something you know you're searching for. In the real world, folks don't often know what or who it is they're searching for, which is why they're searching for him. So suppose someone sends you out on the Internet to find...
That guy from that old movie
You know the guy I'm talking about. What's-his-name. The guy with the big chin, from that movie you like that had the girl in it. Kind of rugged. Looks a little like Scott Bakula. Not William Holden.
The most obvious deficiency search engines have today is that they gather no collective context about images, and people don't always remember names. With Google, Bing, and all the other major search engines, the only context their indexes can gather about images comes from the text in the immediate vicinity of the Web pages where those images reside. Now, hopefully those images have captions, and those captions include the basic information about who's in the photograph. That's helpful if you're specifically looking for a picture of, say, William Holden.
But what about a fellow whose name not only escapes you, but one where the only information you have is given to you by someone else who's trying to remember the name? All you know is what they're giving you -- that guy from the 1960s who was the lead actor in something-or-rather, I think it's science fiction.
For this test, we came up with a real-world-like query that may not be the most efficient, but one which a regular user is likely to enter: actor 1960s "science fiction" movie lead. If you search Bing's and Google's Images based on just something this general, you'll never find the guy, and you'll be there forever. Google will show you pictures featuring Burt Lancaster (did he ever do sci-fi?), Edward James Olmos (not 1960s), Keanu Reaves, some guy named Shatner, Sidney Poitier, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and "Susan" from Monsters vs. Aliens. And that's just among the entries that make sense; you'll also find this black-and-white photo of a 1960s mobile TV signal detector -- a giant radar dish that the British Government once used to detect unlicensed receivers of public TV signals. Interesting, but not even close.
Meanwhile, Bing pulled up some movie posters featuring Jayne Mansfield (nice, but not close either), Clint Eastwood in the French edition of For a Few Dollars More, Gary Dourdan from CSI, the Grinch, and Godzilla. In a case such as this, you'd have to press your source for one more bit of information.
So here's where we threw both Google and Bing a bone: Suppose your source tells you, "I think it was some bird movie." Now, a fan of great films of the 1960s wouldn't have to type anything more at this point -- she'd say, "Oh, you mean The Birds, the Hitchcock film with Tippi Hedren? You must mean Rod Taylor." Assuming you're not that lucky, or your memory for names is more like...well, mine, we'll throw in the term bird into our search query.
Bird is the term that should be the dead giveaway; it's the difference between a query that could be a one-in-a-million shot and one that should have a respectable chance of giving you a clue. It's with this addition that Bing pulled up a fan-made poster from the new Star Trek movie, Charles de Gaulle, Steve Martin from Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, Johnny Depp, and whatever unfortunate pairing of persons appears in the fourth photo on the second row. If you scroll down this page, you'll be just as baffled with the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, a former friend of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Katie Couric, Shirley Temple, and a Coca-Cola bottle.
Add the giveaway term to Google's query, and you'll see a few closer hits and some further-off misses. Doggone if that's not a clip from The Birds, first photo on the second row, albeit not with Rod Taylor. You'll also find a picture of a '60s sci-fi actor named Bruce Connor, whose obituary happens to share the same Web page as that of actress Suzanne Pleshette, who also starred in The Birds (and who remains greatly missed). And there's also the much-missed Ricardo Montalban ("Kh-a-a-a-n!"), the much-envied George Clooney, and a picture of a small duck probably taken sometime in the 1960s.
If Tippi Hedren's face didn't clue you in, you probably wouldn't know to search further along that same thread to locate Rod Taylor. So it's at this point where we toss the query back to the textual search engine for any kind of help whatsoever. And it's here where you come to realize Google's true strength.
Now, we've already determined that textual context used to sort photos is worthless on both counts. But both search engines should be capable of gleaning a collective context from a six-element query, rather than just throw pattern matches onto the screen like photos of ducks and Godzilla, to see what sticks. Item #1 in Google's search results is an AbsoluteAstronomy.com article about -- bingo! -- Rod Taylor.
Meanwhile, with the very same query on Bing, Rod Taylor appeared nowhere within the first 150 results obtained. Let's face it, only Tom's Hardware readers are the sort who'll follow through to page 15 of anything online. Thus in this heat, it's one more point -- albeit a very small one -- for Google, bringing our score thus far to Bing 2, Google 2.