I fired up reddit this morning and was completely flabbergasted by one of the top posts. The title of the post was “This is Why I Use Google, Not Bing”. And it linked straight to this screenshot (which I reproduce here, in case the target disappears at some point):
This blew my mind, not only that an alphageek would prefer the (Google) interface on the left to the (Bing) interface on the right, but that the redditor alphageek community would so heavily upvote it. The way I see it, this speaks directly to the issues of simplicity as storytelling vs. sparsity that I’ve talked about from time to time. The interface on the left is anything but sparse. In fact, it is extremely busy and filled with images, a tool belt of various verticals (news, video images), query modification tools such as timelines and recency sorting, and query reformulation tools such as narrowly related searches (top middle) and broadly related searches (lower left).
In short, everything about it is “non-Googly”, i.e. non-sparse and non-clean. Ironically, the Bing results for this particular query — which is held up as the example of what not to do — is the cleaner one.
So why is it that thousands of Google-loving redditors prefer the interface that is, well, more Bing-like? Could it be that the user is finally starting to understand that simplicity is not the same thing as sparsity? That what matters is the story? The Google results in this case tell a really good story. They give a concise overview of the latest matches and scores. They link directly to highlights. They give a concise overview of upcoming matches and the time at which each occurs. And they acknowledge that when you search for “World Cup”, you’re not just trying to navigate to a single page. Instead, you are “exploratorily” looking for as much information as you can about what is happening at the event as a whole, and perhaps even with football (soccer) as a whole. This is not just a “one box” answer. This is a whole “cluttered” set of rich information and interaction options.
That’s the story. And if it takes a non-sparse (complex or cluttered) interface to tell that story, then so be it. The story is more important than the strict adherence to sparsity. Which is something that I’ve been hammering on about for at least the past half decade now. It is just encouraging to see users finally start to acknowledge it.
Now, all we need to do is let the redditor community know that even though Google beat Bing on this one particular query, overall Bing has been pushing more of this story-appropriate, non-sparse, information rich (“cluttered”) interaction in their results. What I wish users did more of is constantly rotate between the various engines, to know for themselves which queries work on which engines, and what each of the various engines are capable of. Because the irony here is that the redditor that which “This is Why I Use Google, Not Bing” has chosen and interface that is much more Bing-like, and less traditionally “Googly”.
See also my related post, about two Googlers (Norvig and an anonymous employee) and their comments about Bing at the Semantic Technology conference in June 2009.
Update: In the couple of minutes between when I saw the reddit link and when I finished writing this post, the Google vs. Bing image went from 4th on the reddit home page (with ~500 upvotes) to 2nd (with ~750 upvotes). Clearly this has touched a nerve. It’s very interesting to see this reaction, especially because the preferred interface, again, is so traditionally non-Googly and cluttered.