Ad Age reported that Microsoft will spend $80 million to get us to try its new search engine, called Bing. Could that possibly work? (Well, at least it's not caught in the confusing branding world of Windows Live.)
Consider: We all used to use Yahoo or AltaVista until we switched to Google. We stayed with Google because it was better. Now Google is more than just habit. Google has our IDs; customizes our searches; searches our desktops and our e-mail; and delivers neatly integrated maps, reviews and video searches. It works. There is every reason to stay and no reason to leave.
But $80 million buys enough impressions to get people to try something new. For that to make the slightest dent, here's what has to happen:
First, the search has to be better.
Second, the search has to be qualitatively different. Not just better search, but "Holy cow, this is different." Like it was when you first tried an iPhone or first saw TiVo. This could be a better way to organize different media. It could mean connecting with social applications. It could mean searches that get better at understanding meaning so we all don't have to think in Boolean logic. Frankly, if I can imagine it, it's not different enough. So it has to blow all of us away.
Third, it has to integrate with everything else, better than Google does.
And finally, it has to work equally well on all browsers, all devices and all PCs, even Apples and Linux machines.
That's a lot to do. But it could work. All it would take is a level of technology none of us have ever seen before.
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Josh Bernoff is the co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.