It all started with tarsorrhaphy. No really, the current furore over Google’s accusations that Microsoft's search engine Bing copied its search results – and Microsoft's subsequent denial – all started with tarsorrhaphy.
That’s according to an official Google Blog post this morning anyway where the search giant outlines how it went about setting up a sting operation after it had suspicions regarding Bing’s ability to return search results almost as good as Google’s. It all began in summer 2010 when someone searched for tarsorrrhaphy but misspelled it 'torsorophy'. Google returned the correct spelling with results for the corrected query. At that time, Bing had no results for the misspelling but later in the summer, Bing started returning Google’s first result to their users without offering the spell correction (see screenshots below).
This obviously piqued Google’s interest and they monitored the situation until in October 2010 when it “noticed a significant increase in how often Google’s top search result appeared at the top of Bing’s ranking for a variety of queries.” Even search results that Google would consider mistakes of its algorithms started showing up on Bing. So in great Hollywood fashion Google set about rigging a sting operation to lure in Bing and show up exactly what Google believed they were doing.
They created 100 synthetic queries which would normally be never typed into a search engine, such as 'hiybbprqag', and inserted a real website as Google’s top result. The website had nothing to do with the search term and didn’t appear on the page anywhere. Google then gave 20 of its engineers laptops with Windows installed and using IE8 with a Bing toolbar installed. Within a couple of weeks, Google says it noticed, its inserted results showing up in Bing (see the example below).
When this story first broke though Search Engine Land yesterday, Microsoft replied with a verbose and somewhat ambiguous statement, however Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet looked for further clarification receiving the one sentence response: “We do not copy Google’s results.”
Later in a blog post from Harry Shum, Bing Corporate Vice President, he said Bing uses more than 1,000 different “signals” to create its search algorithm. “To be clear, we learn from all of our customers. What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment. But it doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience.”
So it seems as if there is going to be no let up in the battle with both sides standing firm and we look forward to what comes next. Oh for all those of you still wondering, tarsorrhaphy is a rare surgical procedure on eyelids. So now you know.