Bing's iPhone app doesn't work. It's being sued for copyright infringement. The name lends itself more to comedic fodder than to search inspiration. And it'snot even popular enough to be on Firefox's list of search engines.
But there is one area at which Bing excels: helping social media upstarts to become profitable -- or, at least, to bring in more money than they spend.
Take Facebook. In September, founder Mark Zuckerberg made the impressive announcement that, lack of visible revenue generation notwithstanding, the company had officially become cash flow positive. Silicon Alley estimated that at least a quarter of that -- $150 million -- came from its search deal with Microsoft.
Twitter, according to an article in BusinessWeek yesterday, will actually be profitable in 2009, thanks to search deals with Bing and Google.
These partnerships play on the relative strengths of the players: cool kids Facebook and Twitter trading their popularity for mature Microsoft's buckets of cash. After all, even with a year-on-year decline of 14% in first quarter revenues, the Redmond, Wash. giant still netted 12.92 billion in the three months to March 2009. But here's the thing: on the Internet, the cool kids always seem to win.
I'm scratching my head, trying to come up with a single online success story involving a company that bought its way to the top. Even Google can't make something cool just by throwing money at it.
The online world plays by different rules. Success on the Internet goes to the aikido masters, those who are able to play to the collective energies of the community, and flow in the same direction. We didn't know how much fun it would be to poke someone or feed a virtual cow, but we didn't have to completely reverse course to try it. We didn't know we wanted near-real-time microblogging, but it was the logical progression of our growing need for spontaneous communication.
The Web is a place for intellectual hedonism, for hanging out at the intersection of whatever's popular and whatever feels good. Google fits both criteria, and so do Facebook and Twitter -- but Bing doesn't. Bing asks us to give up what we're doing and play the game it wants, instead of the game we want.
Those first quarter results from Microsoft don't have anything to do with Bing, which didn't launch until June of this year, and I'll be keenly watching to see how the decision engine impacts the online services division. For now, though, let's put a red hat on it and call it Santa -- and leave out some milk and cookies to thank Bing for providing the cash to keep those cool kids in business.
Happy holidays to you.