In a day or two, Steve Ballmer will be unveiling Microsoft Live Search's latest attempt to climb out of the dung heap of second-rate search engines and raise its head high enough to see the dust left behind by Google.
Even Ballmer has had to admit that, with a market share under 9 percent and sliding, Live Search is officially Dead Search. With the hopes of a hookup with Yahoo scuttled, at least until Carol Bartz is in a more conducive mood, Microsoft has had to go to Plan B: Start over.
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Microsoft's code name for its new Dead Live Search is Kumo, which is Japanese for "spider" or "cloud," depending on which Kanji characters are employed. (Its Native American name would probably be "spider who drifts like cloud," or possibly "cloud that scuttles like spider.") But according to reports that first surfaced on Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Land last week and have been echoed by Ad Age and other mainstream pubs, Microsoft's new, improved, slightly-less-sucky search engine will be called "Bing."
Why Bing? A fondness for old Crosby tunes maybe. Or ex-Pistons hall of famer (and now Detroit Mayor-elect) Dave Bing. Or because it rhymes with "bling." At least they're not planning to call it Windows Live Search Ultimate Multimedia Edition 2009 version 1.0a.
Ad Age reports that Microsoft plans to drop an $80 million to $100 million marketing campaign on our heads, trying to convince us Google causes cancer (or something), so picking the right name is at least mildly important. And it appears that name may well be Bing. In March, Microsoft trademarked Bing; that also appears to be around the time it purchased the Bing.com domain.
Interestingly, it turns out Microsoft never gained control over the domain LiveSearch.com. As PaidContent blogger Joseph Tartakoff points out, that domain is owned by one Tyler Tullock of Bothell, Wash., who seems quite pleased about telling Microsoft (or its proxies) to put its offers for the domain where the sun shines even less often than in Seattle.
[Tullock] says he has rejected several offers for the site. "I've had many offers—they've always been really stealthy—saying 'I represent a client blah blah blah,'" Tullock told us. He says that the most recent offer came about six months ago, when an entity offered him $40,000 for LiveSearch.com. Tullock asked for $800,000. They countered with $200,000, but Tullock had to answer within a day. He says he passed.
Maybe Tullock got tipped off when the buyer insisted on meeting him in an underground parking garage wearing a Groucho nose and glasses.
Microsoft won't confirm or deny trying to buy the domain from Tullock. Please. Who else would be interested? A domain name dealer who wanted to flip it for a profit, maybe. But why would the company hide its identity? And what other corporate entity besides Microsoft would have any interest?
The point: It seems Microsoft believed LiveSearch.com was worth at most $200,00, but really closer to $40,000. That tells you everything you need to know right there.
How much do you suppose the domain "Google.com" is worth? I don't think I can write a number that big without sending out for more digits from the Zeroes Factory.
Tullock couldn't resist sticking the knife in and twisting, just a bit:
Nowadays, Tullock runs a chain of seven music schools in the Seattle area, and parks Google ads on LiveSearch.com. "It makes me plenty of money sending all that Microsoft business to Google," he says.
According to the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine, in at least one of its previous incarnations Bing.com was a Web service that aimed to "deliver snail mail at Internet speeds." Yes, that's right -- it was designed to speed up postal mail delivery. According to the BingMail brochure [PDF], instead of printing out a doc, putting it in an envelope, licking the envelope, adding a stamp, and dropping it in the mailbox, you'd send it to Bing.com, and they would print out the doc, put it in an envelope, lick it, add a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox.
Hmm, I wonder why that never caught on.
So maybe this is why Microsoft chose "Bing." It plans to make real-time search as fast and efficient as dropping letters in the mail. And to spend $100 million beating us over the head with ads that tell us how good the envelopes taste.
Do you think Microsoft can pull off a search service that's actually worth using? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me direct: firstname.lastname@example.org.