Since you are currently on the World Wide Internet, as it is called, you are probably able to use what is called a Searching Engine to find the things you want, be they My Little Pony jpgs, or Gangnam Style parodies, or ... well, I don't know. Erotica? Anyway, since you are using a Search Engine, I can say, with some confidence, that that engine is named Google.
However, you may not be aware that Google is not the only Searching Engine (or search engine, as the technocrats call it). There are actually several of them. For example, Microsoft spent more money than an unaided human brain can comprehend to create one called Bing. However, its market share is still only around 15%, as it is not Google.
To increase Bing's user base, Microsoft created the Bing It On Challenge. This 21st century techno-version of the Pepsi Challenge has you use a computer to enter five search terms. Then it shows you the Bing and Google search results, side by side, and rearranged slightly so you can't instantly tell which is which. You pick which of the search results is better. Then the thing tells you if you preferred Google or Bing. And, if you preferred Bing, WHY WERE YOU USING GOOGLE ALL THIS TIME, YOU DUMB IDIOT!?!?
Here is a commercial for the Bing It On Challenge. Watch it, if you dare.
(A quick aside about this commercial. I find it fascinating. I am amazed at how abrasive and arrogant the Bing guy is. I want to never, ever, ever use Bing, just to make that guy sad. In the very unlikely event that a Microsoft marketing person reads this, a little unsolicited advice: When you are trying to sell things to technical people, remember that this is a demographic that responds very poorly to bullies.)
Well, I can never resist a good challenge, so I took it myself, and Google won. Not by a huge amount, but by enough. And the reason why was pretty interesting, which is why I am writing this. It doesn't mean Bing is a worse search engine than Google, or bad in some Universal Sense, but I think it says a lot about how search engines work and why making a good one is so difficult.
The thing about a challenge like this is that when you buttonhole someone and say, "Search for five things! Now!" this on-the-spot person will probably just grab five well-known proper nouns. Justin Bieber. My Little Pony. Muffin recipes. Stuff that is easy work for search engines. Every single one is going to be able to handle that stuff. But that is not how I (and, I suspect, many others) use Google.
The reason Google became so popular in the first place is because of its almost supernatural ability to guess what the user is thinking. A search engine must take a random clump of nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and so on, and then tease from those words the specific thing the user's brain desires. In other words, it's an artificial intelligence problem, and a very deep one.
The reason Google took over the world is that it knew you were thinking of Justin Bieber even when you didn't type in Justin Bieber. If you put in "annoying teen singer", the words "Justin Bieber" will appear somewhere on the results page. (And it does, on both Google and Bing.) Google isn't as good as it used to be, but it's still pretty darn good.
(By the way, all search results described are as of 5:30 PM, Pacific Time, Sunday, September 15, 2012, Seattle, U.S.A., Third Planet From Sol.)
The search results below are for me using a search engine the way I, personally, use a search engine. Which engine, Google vs. Bing, is best written to match my aging, dumb brain?
Let's find out!
1. For a first test, I picked a real life thing. A friend once told me that I had to check out this Penny Arcade webcomic. Next time I was at a computer, I tried to, but I couldn't remember the strip's name. I went to Google and searched for something much like this:
the cartoon about video games
Google - First hit is the Wikipedia page "List of television programs based on video games". Fourth hit is Penny Arcade. Pretty good.
Bing - The first two hits are, oddly, general pages for the Cartoon Network. Lots of cartoons, but none specifically about video games. Penny Arcade doesn't show up in the first five pages.
The Winner - Google.
2. I'm still in a nerdy mood, so I pick something a geek might want to hunt for: Classic 80s SF movie Blade Runner. What would you look for if someone told you about its awesomeness but you could only remember the rough description:
the movie where the hguy hunts androids in the future
Google - Wikipedia page for Blade Runner is entry five. As a bonus, the sixth entry is the Wiki page for "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" which is the story Blade Runner is based on. Nice work.
Bing - Blade Runner wasn't in the first five pages, but "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is at least on page 3.
The Winner - Google.
3. No more nerdiness. Let's pick a factoid from history. Something juicy. I think we can all agree that there's only one particularly well-known answer for:
the girl who killed people with an axe
Bing - First entry is a Yahoo Answers page where someone answers the question. The second hit is the Wikipedia page for Lizzie Borden.
The Winner - Bing, narrowly.
4. Now I'm going to pick something serious. Something real. Something I bet a million worried teenagers search for every day:
how do you get aids
Bing - Top three hits are the same as for Google.
The Winner - Tie. Thank goodness. It'd be worrying if either one messed this one up. If some shenanigans caused the first hit to be some bad information (such as that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, which some people actually believe), it could cost real, non-hypothetical lives.
5. For the fifth one, I decide to engage in a bit of whimsy. I wanted to know just how willing these search engines are to sacrifice their own interests in order to help me:
what is the best search engine
Bing - The first official hit is the same. But it's right below an ad link for, you guessed it, the Bing It On challenge. Because of how the page is laid out, the ads look an awful lot like real links. It's kind of shifty, and Google does a much better job of making ads look distinct from results. But hey, if I'm just evaluating quality of search results ...
The Winner - Tie.
What Have We Learned?
Not too much, really. I know that Google AI’s approximation of human thought matches the way my brain works better than Bing's. But who cares? Someone else might use the exact same search terms to fish for entirely different answers. And maybe Bing is better at predicting those.
Microsoft isn't trying to prove that Bing is the be all and end all of search engines. They're trying to get people to give it a shot and they’re hoping that a portion of them will stick with it.
It's a tough job, though. If someone is used to using Google, Bing merely being as good or a little bit better won't get anyone to switch. To get people to actually break a habit requires a big improvement. Very difficult. If that's your goal then getting your targets to actually try the new thing is an absolutely necessary first step. Hey, I gave Bing a try. Didn't work for me, but at least I looked at it. So, victory!
Pity about that commercial, though. MAN, but that guy is a jerk.