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March 4, 2009

Microsoft’s Identity Crisis: The Tech Giant’s Human Struggle

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Screen shot of Kumo Search

Screen shot of Kumo via the Live Search blog

It seems that Live Search is in the grips of another identity crisis. Microsoft is internally testing another search product under the code name Kumo. As Danny Sullivan points out, the possibility of a rebranding effort for Microsoft’s search platform was reported last November. But as we all know, Live Search’s efforts to gain popularity have been a never-ending cycle since day one.

It’s a dilemma I can relate to. I don’t know about you, but I often wonder if the contributions I make in my professional life are worth any value to this industry. I’ve made my struggles with blogging rather public, and in the process I’ve learned a lot, built some relationships and may have even encouraged a few comments on the blog.

Likewise, the achievements of Live Search are nothing to sneeze at. According to Nielsen Online’s latest report, Live holds 11.2 percent of the search share pie. The engine also saw 18 percent year-over-year growth in queries. Still, for both Live Search and myself, the issue remains.

Relevance. Resonance. Originality. Innovation.

All these characteristics represent what often feels like an unattainable ideal. It’s so easy to fall into despair over your own shortcomings. Even if you manage to hit the jackpot once, real success depends on consistent performance. So, you end up beating yourself over the head when you don’t strike gold. When you aren’t number one.

When I was young my dad gave me some advice I’ll never forget. He said, “Virginia, no matter what you do, there will always be someone who is smarter, prettier and wittier than you. But if you always do your best, you’ll find success.”

pills and keyboard

Pills by Mattza via Creative Commons

It’s a hard pill to swallow when all you ever wanted was to be the very best at what you do.

However, in coming to terms with this I’ve come away with a desire to develop my strengths. I decided to start my journey like any good search geek; I searched for “find out what you’re good at”. Most of the resulting Web pages tell you to start by figuring out what you enjoy.

But here’s the thing. Figuring out what you like to do isn’t enough. You also have to figure out where there’s a need. Finding a career that allows you to utilize your passions is a rare luxury. But even if you are lucky enough to end up with a job that utilizes your greatest joys, once put in the framework of supply and demand there will always be realities that add stress, require skills beyond your strengths and demand unyielding hard work.

Considering this, it’s interesting to watch a behemoth of the tech world tackling this very human challenge. I think Microsoft’s search team is moving in the right direction by trying to improve its product and fill more needs. But I’d give them the same advice my dad gave me years ago. You don’t always have to be the best — chances are you may never take the title from the top dog. But if you keep growing and striving for greatness, if you welcome feedback and reward openness, if you remember what you’re good at and what needs you can serve, you’ll find your stride soon enough.





3 responses to “Microsoft’s Identity Crisis: The Tech Giant’s Human Struggle”

  1. Patrick Sexton writes:

    Kumo is a re re re branding for Microsoft, and who knows how wise that is. I think that Microsofts’ challenge is to basically be able to be good enough and fill enough needs for people to not change their homepage when they get a new PC (which often has MSN.com as the default homepage).
    If there is no need for a user to change(if all their needs are fulfilled), they won’t and MSN/LIVE/KUMO will gain market share.

  2. Dr. Pete writes:

    The sad thing is that, all things considered, Live is actually a pretty good engine. Unfortunately, they’ve all but destroyed the brand with mixed messages and confusion. This seems endemic to Microsoft: their recent Vista/Mojave campaign is a great example. The takeaway I got from that was “Our product is so bad we have to trick you into using it”. It’s a terrible message, especially for people who may have liked Vista.
    Danny’s advice last year was spot on, IMO. Microsoft has to commit to consumer search: not in a half-in, risk-managed corporate way, but all out. They have to show us that they care, and they have to stop making it about branding and prove that they can build a better mousetrap. Until they do that, none of us have any incentive to switch, no matter what they name their products.

  3. Mark writes:

    Microsoft needs to create something noteworthy if they are going to the trouble to try and rebrand their search engine. Give us something new and helpful. That what I need in my line of business.



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