You've got to love when "a bunch of geeks" get competitive and start laying down tech traps in an attempt to soil each others' brand. That's what happened when Google claimed Microsoft's Bing had been copying Google search results and implementing them into Bing listings.
Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan revealed this week that Google has long suspected this.
In order to get to the bottom of the matter, Google created one-time code that ranked certain pages for nonsensical terms. Before the code was enabled, no results were returned for these made-up terms. But once the experiment went live, Google manually placed random pages in those search results.
One of Sullivan's examples showed that "mbzrxpgjys" returned a result for Research In Motion. Lo and behold, the same exact result (and more like it) turned up on Bing.
Google blew the whistle on Microsoft once the experiment was done. Looking to restore its good name, Microsoft retorted that it had been the victim of a click fraud based sting operation that proved next to nothing because of how Google orchestrated it.
Bing Director Stefan Weitz told Technology Live that, while Google's tactics were clever, the claims were "not true".
"About 20 of them went to their houses at night, and, probably over a glass of Merlot, started using the Bing toolbar to query Google for that particular nonsensical word," he said. "By using the Bing toolbar, and then clicking on that link, the data flowed through normal processes back to Microsoft as it should. From there the data gets analyzed against a thousand different signals, one of which is our ranker. There is no copying here at all."
Not sure why Merlot took some shrapnel there, but I digress.
Both companies are telling the exact same story, yet one thinks this is a big deal while the other doesn't. We've always been taught not to use other people's work as our own. Regardless of how Microsoft wants to spin it, that appears to be what is happening. Not that all of their search results are copied, but obviously some are.
Now should Google's manual manipulation of search results be a big deal? Probably. But for them to make it public and then assure that it won't be used again (as told to Sullivan) seems genuine. As long as both continue to deliver solid results, casual users will likely remain unphased by such news. However it doesn't mean it won't be fun to hear about though.
As Weitz put it, "At the end of the day, we're all a bunch of geeks competing...that's actually good for the users because, in the end, they get a great product."