A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Bing vs. Google — One Anecdote

My daughter's math class needed to find examples of periodic behavior and estimate a sine curve to fit the data, both manually and by using a TI-83 calculator.  Obvious examples of periodic behavior are average city monthly temperatures and low/high tides.  My daughter wanted something a bit more unusual; her teacher suggested looking at data for live births by month in the U.S. prior to the introduction of contraceptives.

 So off to Google we went.  She typed in "live births by month in the U.S., 1954" and got this search result page.  We clicked on several of the links, ending up at this page about the US census.  Data is yearly, we needed monthly.  But there is a URL at the bottom of the page that we followed to the Center for Disease Control.  And with a few more clicks, we found what we were looking for, Yearly Vital Statistics Reports.

We downloaded various PDFs, found the monthly numbers, and my daughter used Excel to plot the graphs, fiddled with the constants to come up with a good approximation, and used her calculator to get the best sine curve fit possible.  About an hour and a half in work.

While she was finishing up, an advertisement for Bing was running on the TV.  So I gave it a try, and typed in exactly the same thing:"live births by month in the U.S., 1954."  I didn't know what to expect, but here's the page, and look at the fourth result.  Bing-o! Not only the data, but various graphs and explanations for the seasonal variation in live births.  All in two clicks.

This is only one anecdote.  I don't know yet if Bing is a decision engine, but in this case it was a powerful discovery engine that beat Google hands-down.

Start Your Decision Engines

Search engines meet social networks in Hunch.com , while Bing.com delivers fewer search results with higher relevance – welcome to decision engines.

Flickr creator Caterina Fake Monday launched Hunch.com, a search engine guiding users to their ideal sites and products for searches on business, travel, shopping and even life advice.

Type in a question like “Am I in the Friend Zone?” and Hunch will lead you through a series of questions about your personal relationships and to your answer.

Outside of being an exaggerated version of a Cosmopolitan quiz, Hunch offers quite a bit more analysis and learns about you the more you – and others – use it. The system blends social media advice and internet data to get users to answer other users’ questions as the system builds.

Fake sees Hunch as a useful tool that will grow into an enormous resource.

“It might take five years for Hunch to reach maturity,” she said, according to SearchEngineLand.com. “Right now, it’s like Wikipedia circa 2002. To me, what makes social software great is that it improves over time.”

Also giving traditional search giant Google a run for its money is Bing.com, marketed as a “decision engine” and launched late last month as an answer to overwhelming search results on traditional engines.

Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim reported in May that 42 percent of internet users “are constantly unsatisfied with our initial search results.”

“Search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the Web and find information, but they don’t do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.

Like Google, Bing aggregates all types of content on a particular search term, but organizes it in a more useful way. Type in “Rome” and you’ll get searches organized by the city’s history, weather, events, travel deals, etc.

While it remains to be seen how big an impact systems like Hunch and Bing will have on traditional internet searching, it’s clear that innovative technologies focused on quality over quantity and a way to utilize community intellect cannot be ignored.

2009: My Digital Resolution

The first Monday after the New Year brings many of us back to reality after a fleeting period of mental freedom (barring any drama with the in-laws, of course). This time of year many choose to reflect on the previous 52 weeks, and determine what kinds of lifestyle changes will make the next year (in our case, 2009) less lackluster. Instead of boring you with non-existent plans to visit the gym with increased frequency, or a false promise to cook at home more, I've decided to share my list of ways I would like — and have already begun — to change my internet habits.

Online Products Getting the Axe

  • Flickr. With more and more of my friends making use of Facebook's photo albums, I have been using Flickr less and less. While I realize there's still a place for the artsy photostream, Flickr, once a mainstay of my daily online repertoire, is largely absent from my browser's address bar.
  • Firefox. Nothing personal to Mozilla, and I still run it on my Ubuntu and FreeBSD boxes. But when it comes to my business-centered Windows machine, I have abandoned this once-touted browser champion for Google Chrome. Now out of beta, the UI is slick and it uses far less system resources than the now pudgy Firefox. Disclaimer: I am also a self-proclaimed Google fanboy.
  • Technorati. I still view Technorati via RSS, as their headlines are worth a look. However, I used to use this service mainly as a blog search tool, and Google Blog search has simply surpassed it.
  • Twitter. After Facebook implemented and revamped its status updates, Twitter doesn't quite have the same sheen it once had. In addition, most aggregate services implement with the Twitter platform if you really need to stay afloat on any crucial Tweets. Not to mention its non-impressive growth over the last few months.

Online Products I Use More, or Have Begun Using

Excluding the mainstays such as Gmail and Facebook, here are some products I've made some room for as we transition into 2009.

  • Google Reader. While I did not begin using this recently, the revamp of its design and new features have really set this reader further away from the pack than I had imagined.
  • FriendFeed. Upon launch, I was adamently opposed to FriendFeed. After some time to work out kinks and to catch on in popularity (and by nature, functionality), I have found some good news leads and websites through this service. I joined FriendFeed to show how pointless it was, and now it saves me time by aggregating all sorts of websites I'd rather not visit primarily.
  • Hulu. I only really watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and it's available on Hulu. As are all of the archived episodes of Arrested Development. I watch more Hulu than television by a long shot. Where else can I stream forgotten films of the 80's and 90's for free with (very) limited commercial interruption in 480p?
  • Truphone. I make a few calls internationally every now and then, and while Skype is great, without a truly mobile Skype phone available in the United States this service is truly discount calling on the go.

I'm excited to see the innovation that will come with 2009, and hopefully this list will expand itself with better offerings as the year progresses. What kinds of digital changes do you plan to make in the New Year?

Battle of the Voting Place Tools

In past election cycles, the Republicans and Democrats have developed their own custom applications to help citizens find out where they can go vote.  This year, Google did everyone a service by developing a gadget that lets everyone embed a gadget that lets site visitors find out where they can go vote.  I’ve embedded the gadget below.

The McCain campaign and RNC saw this as a great way to save time and money, and are using the gadget on their sites to help voters find out where to vote.

In a move we’ve come to expect from the well-funded Obama campaign, they chose to develop a robust, custom application instead of using Google’s free tool.  The Obama version is more feature rich than Google’s tool, including directions to your voting location, info on the laws in your state, links to external resources and the ability to to have the directions emailed to you.  You can see a screenshot of the Obama tool here.

Election Day web tools

Election Day is rapidly approaching. Many will have Tuesday off and the luxury of keeping score on TV from home. Others will keep tabs online. Whichever way we choose, we treat the event almost like an all-day football game (a very, very important football game), cheering or jeering as each precinct reports. If you’ll be using the net to track the results, news, or still need to make your mind up, here are some resources you’ll find useful:

CNN Election Center – Well designed, lot’s of information and clutter-free. My personal favorite.

USA Today – If it’s just the bottom line, raw news and state-by-state results you’re looking for, USA Today does the job quickly and efficiently.

Politweets – “When Twitter gets political.” 

YouTube Super Tuesday – Upload your political opinions, analysis, interviews, or campaign trail footage to YouTube, then use the interactive map to watch videos from voters, candidates, and news outlets.

Scholastic | Election 2008 – A great way to follow the election with your kids.

Google’s Map Mashups – A virtual hodgepodge of the candidates’ speeches, interviews, endorsements and appearances around the nation.

Pollster.com – The must-bookmark for all projection junkies.

Glassbooth.org – This quiz will help all you undecideds settle on a candidate.