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Microsoft’s Search Rank and Yank



“I’ll Google that”– a phrase heard often throughout my life. The name “Google” was synonymous with “online search”. But did you know Microsoft’s Bing had the second largest market share for search engines in the United States? A few reasons may explain why Bing is behind and not yet synonymized. One of them may be due to its search ranking functions.


A BBC article looks at a recent discovery of Bing results pulling up racist sites and images when “racially-themed” or gender-specific terms were input into the search bar. Other search engines such as Google did not point to similar types of results when the same terms were searched. “Bing shouldn’t be leading people to [these sites] with their search suggestions”, one journalist remarked. The article believes that these problematic search suggestions were skewed by far-right user activity aiming to influence results.


This belief has some truth to it. Search engines rely on information retrieval, a concept that is limited in that complex information is derived from a few words. Synonymy and polysemy, the ideas that there are multiple ways to say the same thing and there are multiple meanings for the same term, drive complexity in search systems. Tools such as Page Rank were built to prioritize certain search results. Information can be ranked using methods such as counting in-links, or how many times a page is linked in other pages. Re-weighing votes from such methods and establishing update rules using highly endorsed pages (authorities) and high authority lists (hubs) can help govern the abundance of information out there on the world wide web. There are a variety of combinations of ranking to prioritize certain information on search results. In this case, Bing presented search results that reflected on their current ranking functions, which may or may not be their intention.

A Microsoft representative noted that the company takes actions whenever these types of issues come to their attention. Hopefully their Bing teams will put more thought into their search ranking functions, and yank out results that are disturbing or unethical. Maybe then will Bing establish more market share in the United States over search engines.



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October 2018