Bing Outage Highlights Google’s Dominance in Search Market

In the early hours today, Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, experienced a significant outage. This affected not only Microsoft’s Edge browser users who hadn’t switched their default search providers but also various services relying on Bing’s search API. Among the impacted services were Microsoft’s own Copilot, ChatGPT’s search feature, Yahoo, Ecosia, and DuckDuckGo.

Although services were mostly restored by the start of the workday on the East Coast, the incident underscores a critical issue: the overwhelming dominance of Google in the search engine market. Just last week, Google announced the integration of AI Overviews as a standard feature in all searches. Users preferring traditional search results must now navigate to the new “Web” option or use specific search modifiers like “&udm=14” to bypass AI responses, as suggested by Ernie Smith.

Concerns about AI-generated misinformation, high energy consumption, and privacy continue to grow. Google’s extensive tracking and its significant influence over the news and SEO landscapes further complicate matters. With Bing’s outage, it becomes evident how reliant many alternative search tools are on a few major players—primarily Google, Bing, and to a lesser extent, Yandex. Given the geopolitical climate, Yandex, based in Russia, is not a viable option for many users.

DuckDuckGo, often touted as a privacy-focused alternative, also depends on Bing for its search results. This reliance has previously sparked debates, especially regarding Microsoft’s ad-based revenue model and its tracking practices. DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg has discussed the challenges of creating a completely independent search engine, highlighting the complexities and substantial resources required.

The recent Bing outage serves as a reminder of the limited competition in the search engine market and the need for more robust, independent alternatives. Overcoming this dependency on a few key players will require significant industry efforts and proactive steps from users seeking diverse and reliable search options.

… [W]e source most of our traditional links and images privately from Bing … Really only two companies (Google and Microsoft) have a high-quality global web link index (because I believe it costs upwards of a billion dollars a year to do), and so literally every other global search engine needs to bootstrap with one or both of them to provide a mainstream search product. The same is true for maps btw — only the biggest companies can similarly afford to put satellites up and send ground cars to take streetview pictures of every neighborhood.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine experienced a significant outage early this morning, affecting users and services dependent on its search API, including Microsoft Edge, Copilot, ChatGPT, Yahoo, Ecosia, and DuckDuckGo. Although functionality was largely restored by the start of the Eastern workday, the incident highlights a crucial issue: the overwhelming dominance of Google in the search engine market.

Bing’s Role and Potential Impact

Bing, while not yet profitable, remains a strategic asset for Microsoft. It supports an extensive search index and an open API, crucial for various services. However, if Microsoft were to restrict API access or if Bing became unreliable, Google’s position as the default search engine would only strengthen. This raises concerns about the limited choices available to users seeking alternatives.

Exploring Alternatives Beyond Google and Bing

The search engine landscape beyond the major players—Google, Bing, and Yandex (GBY)—is less familiar and more fragmented. Rohan “Seirdy” Kumar has diligently maintained a comprehensive list of search engines with their own indexes, providing valuable insights into lesser-known alternatives.

Noteworthy Independent Search Engines

  • Mojeek: Recognized for its decent performance, Mojeek is a viable option for those seeking an independent search engine.
  • Stract: Praised as a useful supplement to more dominant engines, Stract offers additional value.
  • Right Dao: Known for its fast, quality results, starting from Wikipedia-based crawling.
  • Yep: Distinctive for its promise to share ad revenue with creators, offering a unique approach to search results.

These engines, while promising, are often seen as secondary options rather than primary search tools.

Semi-Independent Search Engines

Other search engines, categorized as semi-independent by Kumar, often use GBY indexes to supplement their results. This includes engines like:

  • Brave: Known for its privacy focus and controversial founder.
  • Kagi: Requires an account and utilizes a mix of indexes, including its own Teclis, alongside Google, Bing, Yandex, Mojeek, and Brave.

Kagi’s approach combines multiple sources, but it also suffers when GBY access is restricted.

Beyond Traditional Search Engines

Many non-GBY search engines rely on Common Crawl, a vast public resource of web pages. While Common Crawl provides a wealth of information, the challenge lies in organizing, ranking, and presenting these results effectively. The significant investment required to develop a truly independent search engine is a barrier, as evidenced by the experiences of DuckDuckGo and Kagi.

The Future of Search

As the search engine market evolves, the push towards AI-driven search assistants reflects the desire for alternatives beyond GBY. However, even AI solutions often draw from GBY sources. For those seeking diverse perspectives, the key lies in diversifying search tools and resources. This includes using multiple search engines, exploring forums, consulting non-indexed databases, and engaging with other information sources.

In conclusion, while Google and Bing dominate the search engine landscape, the quest for alternatives requires ongoing effort and a willingness to explore beyond the conventional. Despite the dominance of a few major players, there remain valuable tools and resources for those committed to finding diverse and independent search options.