Bing vs. Google rematch on video search

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We've known that Microsoft still has work remaining in its itinerary to build Bing into a more competitive search engine -- we knew at launch time that not every feature would compete on an absolute par against Google. If it did, then MSN and Windows Live would have been far more popular. But when Microsoft steps forward to say, "Now, we really have something competitive in this department," it's difficult to give Bing the same number of "Mulligans" as we did at the beginning.

This morning, Microsoft rolled out some replacements to its old MSN Video search engine -- which had remained online all this time -- to produce Bing Video. Like Google Video and unlike YouTube, Bing Video is not a host; it's a search service for publicly accessible videos. So YouTube videos, although hosted by Google, should appear on Bing as well. The differentiator here, theoretically, should not be inventory, since both services should have access to the same material. Instead, it should be how the material is presented, and whether the search process provides access to not only what the user is looking for, but material that may also be pertinent, relevant, and interesting.

So this Betanews comparison does not pit Bing against YouTube -- let's be clear about that. This compares Bing Video against Google Video, similar to our initial test of the two services last June.

With today being Veterans' Day in the US, I decided to devote our search themes for this contest to the bigger, braver battles that Americans have fought in the interests of our freedom and prosperity, so that we're able to spend time dealing in more mundane things like browsing through videos. I began with an easy search for "D-Day" footage -- I want to see if I can locate the small amount of actual footage shot of the Allies storming the Normandy beaches.

What's D-Day to some of us who appreciate the extreme sacrifices of the Allies in saving the world, isn't D-Day to everyone, apparently. Since search engines trust the titles of videos to be truthful about their contents, 6 of the first 20 results returned by Bing actually showed amateur video of paintball competitions called "D-Day," and one was a stop-motion animation using plastic soldiers attacking a beach fortification made of Styrofoam.

By comparison, the first 15 items returned by Google were of legitimate historical D-Day footage, while #16 was the same silly Styrofoam recreation. (The title does say "D-Day Lost Combat Reels," but the word "stop-motion" might also give other clues.) In all, 17 of the top 20 videos Google returned contained D-Day footage, while one contained recent footage of the D-Day Memorial in Normandy.

You'd think adding material to the search would narrow things down significantly -- for example, making the query "D-Day" footage Normandy invasion. And for Google Video, it does, with the first 45 items retrieved showing authentic Normandy footage. Only item #46 in Google's retrieval shows footage from paintball competitors (even though "Normandy" is nowhere close to "Oklahoma"). Item #12 for Bing Video involves paintball, while #11 shows footage of a legitimate amateur D-Day recreation in Ohio (again, nowhere close to Normandy).

In browsing through selected videos, Bing continues to show one of its bright spots: the ability to play a segment of the video directly within the thumbnail, complete with sound, before the user actually selects it. This gives the user more of an opportunity to see whether this is actually something she really wants to be seeing. Google Video currently has no counterpart to this, and it really should, although one wonders whether Google's looking for an opportunity to roll the feature out when no one is noticing.

This is especially useful for previewing videos hosted by other sites, especially universities, where embedding isn't normally supported. For example, when we tried a search for the classic 1952 Edward R. Murrow See It Now documentary on "Christmas in Korea" (the query here being Korea Murrow "See It Now"), most of the sites with the longest relevant clips (some of them including the Korea show, some not) are on a non-embedding site, such as Kansas University's Journalism Dept. Pulling up the whole video would mean leaving the search engine.

However, a video's thumbnail alone doesn't often tell you whether it might contain a minute or two from the edition featuring Murrow's tour with US troops in the Korean War. So Bing's ability to preview even non-embeddable videos here is extremely helpful; with only a thumbnail to go on, the only way for you to test a video pulled up by Google is to travel off-site.

Next: Presentation is the key...

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