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Librarians: Bing has to find niche

School and campus librarians say Google likely will remain the preferred option for student and faculty research even after the much-ballyhooed deal between Microsoft and Yahoo, but they say Microsoft’s Bing search engine could cater to image searches in particular.

Yahoo officials agreed this week to eliminate the company’s search engine and replace it with Microsoft’s new Bing search function. Acquiring Yahoo’s online audience will boost Bing’s market share to nearly 30 percent, up from about 8 percent before the deal was struck, according to industry numbers. Search giant Google, however, is expected to retain 65 percent of online searches.

School librarians said Google solidified its dominance in education in recent years with its scholar search, where faculty and students can find reliable citations for research papers. Susan Gibbons, library dean at the University of Rochester, said Bing would struggle to pry web searchers away from Google, but Bing’s superior visual layout could be conducive to image searches.

"[Bing] might be able to become the default place for those looking for images," Gibbons said, adding that a Bing user can scroll over a picture and "interact with it more" than on Google’s image search page. At Bing, a preview of each web page is displayed when the cursor hovers on a search result.

Bing also allows users to change the way images are displayed on the results page, and video previews play when a mouse is scrolled on top of the thumbnail image.

"I’m guessing Bing could be [successful] if they pick a piece of it and do it very, very well," Gibbons said. "But I don’t think they can compete against Google one to one. People weren’t Yahooing. They’re Googling."

Replacing Yahoo’s search engine with Bing could hamper research for students and educators who were used to using Yahoo, at least in the short term, because Yahoo had more web sites "indexed," or stored in its database, than Microsoft. Bing, a search engine launched this year, hasn’t yet compiled a superior web page index, although the number of results is comparable.

Fore example, a search for "Culper Spy Ring," a spy ring organized by Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War, turned up 1,800 results on Yahoo. The same search on Bing produced 800 results. (A search of Google, meanwhile, generated 82,000 results.)

Barbara Fister, head of the library instruction program at Gustavos Adolphus College in Minnesota, said Google’s scholar and book-search functions have made the site a default page for any kind of research, whether personal or academic. The Yahoo-Microsoft alliance, she said, won’t change that in the short term.

"I doubt Google is going to fundamentally change [its] focus as a result of this merger, nor do I think students and faculty will particularly notice it," Fister said.

Many students, she said, simply use the search box in the top right corner of whichever web browser they’re using. At Gustavos Adolphus College, that means students and faculty search with Google because it is built into Firefox, the campus’s preferred browser.

"Campus users may well use whatever the default toolbar setting is without thinking about it," Fister said, adding that Bing could draw some searches away from Google because it’s the default search engine for Internet Explorer.

Gibbons said this week’s search engine news won’t dissuade Rochester’s librarians from suggesting Google scholar searches to students.

"I don’t see this merger changing the way we encourage students to do decent internet searches," she said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.




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