I was sitting at my computer one afternoon several days ago staring at a blank screen, when the news walked in. If a computer screen could blare a headline, then it blared something incomprehensible.
Google accused Bing of copying its results, implying the hint of scandal. Google uncovered the conduct through some clever sleuthing, and was proud of itself. Bing responded with indignity and complete disregard, accusing its rival of exaggerating.
Joshua Gans put his finger on one key aspect of this situation in a recent post, and I would like to take the spirit of his suggestion and push it further. Gans believes we need a new word to describe what happened. I concur.
To be frank, at first this was not obvious to me. With a few days gone, however, calm returned, I began to look back on this episode and grin. There is something rather amusing and absurd about this spat. In the first place, in the greater scheme of things the details behind this episode will not amount to much, so they did not deserve the hyperbole that either Google or Bing brought to their public pronouncements.
Yet, there is something rather engaging about the way Google set a little trap. They used a made-up word, Hiybbprqag, and planted it on the web to catch Microsoft imitating Google’s search results. I cannot shake the amusing image. Twenty engineers sat in their homes, with instructions to enter some made up words, such as hiybbprqag, and then they anxiously waited two weeks to see if Bing would take the bait.
<sarcasm alert> Just think of what a good Hollywood script writer could do with this material. If you had asked me last year I would not have thought it was possible to make an entertaining Hollywood movie about a self-centered Harvard undergraduate who implements a social networking site more successfully than a few others classmates, but I was wrong. If that movie could work, then Google’s antics have so much more potential. This is the fodder for a trilogy of movies about high-tech competitive intrigue. Nerd wars here we come. But I digress. <end of alert>
Anyway, let’s all lighten up. It is just a little spat between rivals.
Gans’ observation mixes a serious bit of analysis with tongue-in-cheek amusement (which is Gans usual disposition towards life, and the primary reason he is good for an extended conversation on any occasion. But I digress once again). He observes that our language for competitive rivalry is not appropriate for what we all observe in this spat. That is part of the problem with the news reports about the episode. What we observe is neither imitation in the usual sense, nor quality competition in the usual sense. It is something else, something slightly different, something in need of a new label.
Bravo, Joshua. The spirit of this observation is right. That said, I do not entirely agree with Gans’ implementation, and that is the point of this post. I would like to suggest a new word.