I've been on the Bing Ads side for the past two years. I overlapped with Philip very briefly at MSFT. When I started, he was working in a group that had nothing to do with Bing. I had a couple pretty positive email exchanges and generally thought highly of the guy, but certainly didn't know him well.
Today, out of the blue, about a year after he left MSFT, he writes a scathing critique of a culture that he hasn't been a part of for 3+ years (I don't honestly know when he was at Bing), and writes about it in the present tense without any clarification that the events are in the past. On his Facebook post, Philip comments that the test director incident happened 5 years ago. His blog reads like it happened last week.
Qi Lu joined MSFT less than 3 years ago to take over Bing and all of online services. When Qi took it on, it was called Live Search. It had been losing market share every month for years. Since Bing launched, it's market share has risen every month. It's quite possible that the culture Philip worked in was every bit as broken as he describes. But the team I work in, I can speak to it being a fantastic place to work now. Qi has been upgrading the talent top down and now I find it filled with very smart people making real progress, both in the quality of the search engine, and in the market share gains over the past two years.
Are there still some political people? Of course, every large organization has them. But the company Philip writes about doesn't sound like the one I work in.
Obvious disclaimer about the fact that I'm a current employee and thus biased.
Programmers think that they hate politics but when it comes down to the actual technical stuff, they do politics as well.
Some programmers want to be "relevant" in the HN sense so they push new technology that they just picked up last week religiously (node.js for a CRUD app, which most websites are anyway, comes to mind) like it is the next big thing.
Or they just read 37Signals books and drank the 37Signals + RoR kool-aid and push 100% 37Signals mindset to the workplace that doesn't fit with that (different target, client base, market, etc). Come back in 3 years time and you'll see the same guy pushing for MVC in client-side/browser as opposed to stick with simplicity yet still pushing 37Signals mindset whenever he refused to do work that doesn't inline with him for whatever reasons (laziness, or else).
Or perhaps they came back from Agile meeting and think that Scrum is the only way to run a project that everybody else must follow it. (Hint: Scrum is hard to understand and to apply to a large group of people who don't know Scrum 100%). On the flip side, cowboy coders hate a single addition of "process" even if that process is called Continuous Integration. They'll do whatever it takes to make sure they can continue to code like cowboys.
Even the unit-test debate can be considered as politics. Some people want the company to rely on themselves so they prefer no unit-tests. Programmers are notorious with locking in the knowledge in their brain only hence no unit-tests, no documentations. Just Read The F... Code they say. C'mon, don't give me excuses that these are useless except for your weekend projects. We all know that most startups develop from prototypes. They almost rarely re-write their main (with odd codebase) products.
... more reasons to be an indie developer I suppose...
When I am faced with colleagues like the ones you describe, I, as politely as possible, point out we have an HR problem. I have a good relationship with my HR people and I hope this kind of input goes somewhere.
Truth is, the larger the organization, the lower the chances of hiring only the best people (and even the best can be corrupted by the bad apples). At some point, your average will approach society's median, which is pretty bad.
"People look out for themselves when there’s nothing to look forward to."
This is what it all comes down to, whether at Bing, or at any other large organization. The other bullet points on Philip's list are fine, but this one is perhaps wholly sufficient. Politics exists in every organization. And every organization has some folks who are more Machiavellian than others. But all of this crap comes to the forefront, amplified and accelerated, when an organization is in turmoil. (And that atmosphere of turmoil usually trickles down from the top; a divisional leader who's always politicking and maneuvering inspires his lieutenants to do the same, and on and on it goes).
I've had the distinct displeasure of working for at least three large divisions of megagiant companies in varying degrees of peril or stagnation, and all three of them -- despite wildly different corporate cultures and people -- became similar hotbeds of political intrigue. Declining quarterlies led to re-orgs, and re-orgs led to chaos, and chaos bred more chaos. And in this crucible people forged schemes, machinations, alliances, and double-crosses that would make A Game of Thrones look like a Dr. Seuss book.
This phenomenon is notable because the same people, operating in the same groups, did not behave so politically in better times. Like I said, I'm sure that a few of them were always plotting and conniving. But only when the division went into steady decline did the sheep cast off their clothing and reveal the wolves beneath.
This is what it all comes down to, whether at Bing, or at any other large organization.
This isn't just large organizations, but also small. I worked at a start up during the dot com boom that was the most dysfunctional I've ever worked at.
If you read bug reports you'd be amazed to see how much bugs jumped around. Devs had a motto, "No my bug" while imitating Neo of the Matrix dodging bullets in slow-motion.
And for a company that just existed a couple of years, they rewrote their core product like 3 or 4 times, because someone else wanted to be the hero.
Part of this is, as you point out, that the dot com bubble was coming to an end and people saw that all the hours they put in were coming to be worth effectively nothing.
I heard an anecdote about Microsoft before that when the stock was going up you could turn off the heat and no one would complain. But when the stock was flat/down HR would get complaints about how much it rained in Seattle and employees would say they didn't sign up for this many cloudy days.
Easy to see this every day. Where I live, if the trains are running on time, everyone is perfectly polite, helps people with their luggage, always says "no, after you" and so on. When the trains are fucked, people become feral and climb over each other to get on, as no-one knows when the next one will come...
I worked with Philip shortly back at MSFT. He was one of my favorite people and had all the right core values one would ever want. Someone who got stuff done and cared about it. I thought losing him to FB was a terrible loss for MSFT (he went on to do the FB/Skype integration almost single-handedly). He is not just another disgruntled employee, he is someone MSFT needs to listen to.
I don't think he's going to succeed at changing the culture he intends to criticize. The people who wage these stupid political wars don't care that people of conscience hate them. If anything, it energizes them to be hated by the decent among us.
Something I found myself unprepared for is the bad-decision-as-an-assertion-of-power pattern. It literally was not until age 27 that I realized (despite seeing this behavior several times first-hand) how common it is, in business, for people in charge to make intentionally bad decisions for the sake of (a) asserting power, and (b) testing others' loyalty. I guess one could say I was too naive and hyper-rational to believe such a thing to be possible-- except in the movies.
I wish I had a solution. For the record, people who say "Startups!" don't know what they're talking about. Startups can be great, but office politics can get just as ugly in small companies.
I have a friend who used to work at Apple. He jokes (I hope) that Steve Jobs pronounced (Mac OS X 10.2) "Jaguar" as jag-wire as a "prestige hypercorrection" to test the loyalty of his followers. If someone adopted his hypercorrected pronunciation, then he knows they are a sycophant. Though I'm not sure if that means the person should be trusted or ignored..
Fun fact (possibly irrelevant, probably even true) an early example of that pattern is the river Thames that flows through London. It used to be pronounced like it's written, starting with a "Th". Then King George I took the throne in 1714. He was German, but from then onwards, the way that he said it (i.e. "Tems") was the right way. And still is.
Sometime that's what leaders do: they test the water to see if people still consider that they are their leaders. If the result is positive, they'll continue to do what they do. Otherwise, either they become paranoid (most leaders are) or they change their game plan a little bit.
unless Google, like most of Microsoft’s previous competitors, summarily shoots itself via a series of disastrous decisions
It's possible. Corporations change. The difference in quality is slight, but google has been making some ludicrous mistakes lately (IMHO, obviously):
1. Google instant. This is such shit I can hardly believe it. Yeah, I can turn it off, but the average person is going to be charmed by the gimmick of it without realizing how awful it is. On unfamiliar computers, I go to bing automatically.
2. The disinclusion of search terms. This happened all the time pre-google, and now it's happening at google with every query. You have to affix a plus sign on every term if you want it actually searched. Again, normal people are unaware.
3. The debasement of the brand. I'm talking about the non-stop cutesy-pie logos. What if Coke did this?
4. Very public flops outside their area of expertise. Google+, etc.
...these four things aren't going to hurt google too much, but they tell me that the lunatics are now in charge.
I think Google's early success can be attributed to its ANDing of search terms, perhaps just as importantly as PageRank. If you searched for oatmeal cookie recipe, Alta Vista would search for oatmeal OR cookie OR recipe, but Google would search for oatmeal AND cookie AND recipe. Google's recent reversal is disappointing.
would be an interesting hack to just add a frontend that prepended a + to each word and then submitted to google. (and it would be cute to call it +google, though that would likely get you a call from a lawyer or two)
yes. this behaviour, I dunno when it exactly got as bad as this, is the first time in a decade that it really makes me switch away to different search engines, even for everyday queries.
I used to just switch if I had a particularly hard search or needed some special feature I knew another SE would provide better.
BTW I find that Yandex, the russian SE is also quite good. I don't know exactly what/how they did it, but it has a sort of smooth, quick, basic and simple "feel" similar to Google that makes me able to imagine myself really using it by default.
> 1. Google instant. This is such shit I can hardly believe it. Yeah, I can turn it off, but the average person is going to be charmed by the gimmick of it without realizing how awful it is. On unfamiliar computers, I go to bing automatically.
The average person doesn't need exceptional people like you to tell them what's good for him.
> 2. The disinclusion of search terms. This happened all the time pre-google, and now it's happening at google with every query. You have to affix a plus sign on every term if you want it actually searched.
Not only that, but Google now casually replaces word in the query. I was searching this morning for something specific with the word "append", and Google apparently thinks "add" matches "append". This is infuriating and keeps getting worse.
How do Google not know that this is the exact behavior that killed the likes of Altavista and allowed them Google to exist in the first place? Why are they doing this?
When I search for "ubuntu sound garbled random", I need an answer to my query - I don't care about 'garbled', 'gibberish', 'distorted'. Or 'random' or 'after some time'.
If your needs are specific, you need to prepend a '+'. But general consumer queries don't need it. People who need to use that can know about it and use it. The overhead isn't that high.
EDIT: And if you need to prepend a + to query terms, that means for the given query terms, the missing word is rarely occurring and the overall ranking is low. Eg. 'ubuntu sound issue gibberish'. You won't see any results with 'gibberish' in it, but the results are relevant. Google isn't a giant hashtable - it's a search engine, and this behavior is desirable.
> And if you need to prepend a + to query terms, that means for the given query terms, the missing word is rarely occurring and the overall ranking is low
Isn't that the point of searching: find a specific thing in a whole bag of other things? I don't use Google to find the Yahoo homepage (I know many people actually do; should we help them???)
If you were right, Altavista would have prevailed and Google would not have emerged; the way Altavista worked was, they linked the words in a query with the "OR" operator, so that any query produced at least some results, however irrelevant.
If you were right, Google would have done this from the start; why are they doing it now?
(Could it be because focus groups are taking over?)
Besides, what I'm complaining about is different from automatic spell correction; when you mistype a query Google automatically searches for (what it thinks are) the correctly spelled words, but it tells you about it and let you search for your original query with just one click.
Having "add" match "append" is done silently, without any visible option to disable it.
And if you have many words that you need to prefix with + it gets crazy; in theory there's the "allintext:" parameter, but if you use it often you get flagged as a bot and can't search at all.
I think I'd pay to have access to a "Google Pro" service where all these tricks would be disabled; no Instant, no fuzzy search, no nothing. Like 2001 Google.
> Isn't that the point of searching: find a specific thing in a whole bag of other things?
Web search isn't as simple as you make out to be. It's not a 'select * from blah where field like %like%'. Searching is about finding relevant information. Keywords are taken into account, but again, it's not a giant hashtable.
If I search for 'python file system watch', it shows me results for 'monitor' as well. Most of the cases, the keywords are the means to find the end result.
When you enter the queryterms, they pass through a lot of filters - removal of stopwords, n-gram tagging, spell check, hyponyms/hypernyms translations, lemmatization...before hitting the index. And then the ranking itself is quite complex.
And it's simply that sometimes 1 or 2 out of n query terms doesn't make it to the first page.
I don't work for Google and I don't know about how Google does it, but the notion that Google is ORing query terms is absurd. It just can't be. If Google were ORing query terms, you would never find MIT if you searched for "massachusetts institute of technology" or vice-versa.
> If you were right, Google would have done this from the start; why are they doing it now?
Once again, they aren't ORing query terms. The missing terms are falling out of the front page due to low rank.
> I don't use Google to find the Yahoo homepage (I know many people actually do; should we help them???)
Nothing special needs to be done for them. The generic ranking works great.
> If you were right, Altavista would have prevailed and Google would not have emerged; the way Altavista worked was, they linked the words in a query with the "OR" operator, so that any query produced at least some results, however irrelevant.
Google prevailed because of better ranking algorithm.
> (Could it be because focus groups are taking over?)
Focus group doesn't decide how algorithmic search works.
Search engine internals are really not my point here (I build Lucene-based search engines for a living).
My point is about user experience and user expectations.
I expect a search engine to find documents that contain the words I'm searching for, not other words it thinks are equivalent, or some other document that has a better "ranking". Ranking is sorting the pages that actually contain words in the query, not in abstracto. Ranking is about relevance, not popularity; popularity is but one piece of information when calculating relevance.
> The missing terms are falling out of the front page due to low rank
In the example I gave, a word is replaced by another word, not just ignored; one can tell because the replaced word is highlighted in the search results, as if it was the one I was looking for.
> Focus group doesn't decide how algorithmic search works
Focus groups can help decide if a feature is or isn't worth it. Some user feedback is useful; relying too much on user feedback and losing sight of the original mission of the company is dangerous. (Remember "Organize the world's information" and all that?)
- - -
It's likely there are solid and sane reasons why Google is doing this (and of course they're free to do as they want -- since we don't pay for their services who are we to complain); what I don't get is why these "features" cannot be turned off (as can Instant).
I don't understand why you're getting downvoted. I agree completely, and have had the same thoughts many times myself. Especially about longing for a Pro type of service where we could get back to actual, effective search.
I run into this all the time, and I figure it's an extremely common thing. For instance, I'm frequently looking to buy nightstands. I need tall ones, for tall beds. Searching tall nightstands doesn't even guarantee me results that are tall - plus that odd, highly-appearing link about Swedish women. Most results are just for nightstands, not tall ones. Now add the word italy to the query. Plus it, even. You still won't get more than 20% of results that relate to nightstands from Italy.
> but the average person is going to be charmed by the gimmick of it
> Again, normal people are unaware.
Knowing about prepending a '+' to a query term doesn't make anyone 'exceptional', and not knowing about it doesn't make anyone 'normal/avergage'.
FWIW, products are written for majority, the so called normal, average people, and majority finds the way google useful. When majority doesn't adapt to their changes, they will iterate. It's product development 101.
> The debasement of the brand. I'm talking about the non-stop cutesy-pie logos. What if Coke did this?
Google isn't Coke, and Coke can't change its logos dynamically. And you know, your normal/average person doesn't give a shit about what is displayed at upper left - they care about the value the serviice provides. If Google is finding them things they want, cool.
And seriously, debasement of brand? When the 'Les Paul' logo came out, in almost every office in the world, and in almost every house which has a connected computer, there was at least one person excitedly telling someone else about the logo. A million dollar advertising campaign won't have got Google this much publicity.
> Very public flops outside their area of expertise. Google+, etc.
Too early to tell. But what does it matter to Google search? Google can deliver 100 flops a year. I will stick to search as long as search works for me.
I hear you. Google search is becoming increasingly useless.
Just this morning I was looking for some Scheme documentation. Typing "scheme set!" into Google returned all kinds of crap because Google not only ignored the "!" after "set", it also searched for "scheme OR set" instead of "scheme AND set!". Bing, on the other hand, gave me exactly what I need. DuckDuckGo was as bad as Google.
I realize they're doing it to help out the average user, but whether the average user needs this kind of help is debatable. There are "average" users who actually know what they're doing and they're going to be pissed when Google insults them like this. Lawyers, doctors, photographers, designers, car mechanics, gardeners ... these are "average" users too, and sometimes they have very specific queries. What Google returns when they search for these extremely specific queries is what will decide if they're going to stick with Google or switch to Bing/whatever.
"You don't really know what you want. You're too stupid. We know better. Let us help." Is that the message you're sending me, Google?
Exactly. The inability to get Google to recognize punctuation in any form is a killer, and not just for technical queries. There are many proper names that include punctuation but otherwise mundane words, and it's impossible to find what you're looking for in a sea of words with the distinctive punctuation stripped out.
They've special-cased a few instances of punctuation. C# and C++ work as search terms, for example. & also works, possibly because it frequently shows up in searches with high advertisement value such as "Barnes & Noble".
But yes, I'd kill for a search engine that could consistently search for punctuation. I was recently trying to learn the difference between the <%= and <%# pseudotags in ASP.NET and completely struck out on Google.
Yes, 2001 Google did. I don't know their reasons for removing the ability to search strings that include punctuation, but it could have to do with bots using search engines to scan for security exploits, as with the Bing overreaction to phpbb queries (http://blamcast.net/articles/bing-crash).
Search usefulness will be inversely correlated with Google's earnings, just ask Sergey and Larry, read their original paper. I hear through the grapevine that Instant search leads people towards searches with ADS, or more expensive ads. Let's not talk about personalization or how some results make ads better. Coincidences? Uh huh. $40 Billion in revenue this year as search share stays flat.
To date 7280 people have linked their Google+ accounts to Twitter using our service. We check these accounts for new Public posts every 10 minutes which represents a significant number of data points
If anyone thinks this is in anyway indicitive of Google+ usage they are fooling themselves.
Google has deliberately tried to build Google+ as a standalone product (as opposed to Buzz, which encouraged Twitter etc integration). That's a much slower path to take, but from what I see (in terms of in-depth conversations on Google+ itself) it's being quite successful.
Sure but if overall users and usage increases, I'd still expect that rate of increase to be higher than the rate that people learn to stop publicly sharing things. So if public shares are decreasing, it seems likely that overall usage is stagnating or decreasing as well.
* I can't turn it off. Well, more accurately I can't turn it off for long. I've now turned the fucker off over two dozen times but someone at Google just won't permit me to disobey him. Or forgot to handle prefs properly across >1 TLDs.
* IT BREAKS THE BROWSER'S DEFAULT SCROLL BEHAVIOUR. "Oh, that's OK, nobody uses the arrow keys to scroll even though everybody can and has always had that ability in their browser" is the dumbest rationalisation ever. Just cut that shit right out. Or let me turn it off. For longer than a couple of days, preferably.
I'll just stop there because the other ten or fifteen things I thought of annoy me less than these. But breaking core browser functionality is a dick move. Forcing it on me instead of letting me decide was a dick move. And not fucking leaving it turned off when I specifically turn it off repeatedly over a period of several months is a really dick move.
I personally find it awful in Chrome because they don't handle the autocomplete experience correctly, and I always end up searching for what they complete instead of what I wanted which happened to be a prefix of it.
I hate it because hitting backspace removes letters from the search field instead of going back in the browser even if I click outside the box. It gets too annoying. Not to mention that it's useless for me because I type really fast.
I decided to do a test and switched my in-browser search bar to Bing. So far, I haven't had any reason to object. I still get results which do what I want.
Also, I could swear that Bing Maps is actually faster than Google in terms of loading tiles, scrolling around, and all of that. Google Maps just sticks at times, for some reason. It's amazing to see it fall so far, considering that smooth-scrolling maps at Google is what brought me over from Mapquest years ago.
I'd love to see someone continue the result comparisons with the brands filed off. It might surprise people.
>Also, I could swear that Bing Maps is actually faster than Google in terms of loading tiles, scrolling around, and all of that
I have to say that bing maps is pretty unusable for me. Maybe it's different for USA, but here in parts of Europe that I'm interested in it's useless. Slow and more or less unzoomable, for example this is my town: http://i.imgur.com/pGaeB.png
From the post: Yet the same people who led the 30-person MSN Search team retained key leadership positions in the 3,000-person Bing team. How, exactly, does this happen?
I would say, more often than not when you work in large corporations where either teams have grown uncontrollably, or where certain people who happened to be present in key positions early, has enough clout organizationally to warrant the same position even when the team grows or its responsibilities grow.
I have seen where consulting firms at Client organizations, where the Team Lead on the first client project who is managing three developers end up being the Program manager years later overseeing 40-50 consultants, with no real leadership experience.
Independent of the post, does anybody else find the OCCASIONAL BOLD PHRASES very distracting? I can't make up my mind whether to READ THEM WITH EMHPASIS, as one might hear in verbal speech, or try to find a CLEVER HIDDEN MESSAGE from the author.
Anyone have a link to the study referenced in here which says people prefer bing results to google's when logos are reversed? This seems like something MSFT's marketing department would be trumpeting at every opportunity...
EDIT: The closest I've found is this - http://blindsearch.fejus.com/ which lets users vote up anonymous result sets. However, the last reported numbers (from 2009) show Google in the lead. Oh well.
One thing I've always wondered is if every search company looks better than their competitors on their own metrics. Seems totally plausible given how many different ways there are to define metrics, and how different the types of queries that each search engine receives might be.
Sometimes you know you're getting a beatdown and your metrics reflect it. Your goal is to simply close the distance over time.
But one thing that happens is that if you decide a metric is important and make it a KPI, you are then trying to implement features based on their ability to "move the needle" on that KPI. So if you are effective at meeting goals, you tend to improve on that KPI (the one you are testing for improvement on) more than you do on some other metric that you are not measuring your performance against.
So yes, if different competitors are using different metrics, they're likely to each perform the best on their own metrics.
The post starts out sending a disgruntled-employee vibe, but it improves later on. The OP conjectures about how an organization becomes more heavily political than the rest of a company are pretty interesting.
I once witnessed a debate between two leaders in Bing about whether Microsoft network proxies should be modified to redirect all employee traffic targeted at Google towards Bing instead. Never mind that employees were using Google; someone actually thought the way to win was to force them to use Bing. “I know, we’ll make them use it!”
I love this mentality. With everyone else, it's dogfooding and is a highly recommended practice, especially here on HN. With Microsoft, it's forcing your employees to use something against their will.
Apologies in advance for making a fairly trivial observation but I really like this guys use of bold in the text. It's a little like a tabloid newspaper but I found that it genuinely added to the writing making it more readable and more amusing.
I found Philip's article to be remarkably uninteresting. He observed political machinations in a large company -- what a shock! I don't care if he has been out of the space for 3 years, or if he's in the middle of it today -- he didn't identify anything about organizational behavior that isn't already known. Move along, nothing to see here....