Search engine bias

Slashdot is wondering how objective is Microsoft's search:

There have been a number of stories on Microsoft trying to do a 'Netscape' on Google.. what would a world in which Microsoft provides search look like? A search for 'linux' on msn.com give amazon and ebay as the top two results, and a microsoft site promoting migration from Linux to Windows as the fourth listing. A search on MSN India is even more amusing -- the top result is a dead link, and the second one is Linuxsucks.com.

I found the same results as reported and other interesting facts re. searching for "linux" on several engines:

  • Google has about 58,800,000 results, and shows linux.org, linux.com, redhat.com and linuxdoc.org at the top and visible on my screen without scrolling
  • Yahoo! has about 48,400,000 results, and shows the same top results as Google
  • AllTheWeb has 24,120,376 results, and shows the same top results as Google except #4 which is kernel.org
  • Altavista found 14,551,832 results, but won't show anything not sponsored until the 9th item (i.e. requires scrolling).
  • MSN US has about 542 results, and as mentioned on /., its top four results are Amazon, eBay, MSN Tech and Microsoft. Linux.org is 8th, Red Hat makes the 12th and 14th (but not with their home page), linux.com and linuxdoc.org do not make it on the first page. None of the "normal" links are visible on the first screen
  • MSN India has only about 53 results, and indeed the first link is dead and the second one is linuxsucks.com. Linux.org makes 6th. No Red Hat in sight, but lots of Indian Linux Users' Group (the first making it as 3rd result). MSN India does not seems to have all the sponsored sites and ads that are on MSN US, so 7 "normal" links are visible on the first screen

"Screen" above refers to the visible area in my browser window on my PowerBook 15' (resolution: 1152 x 768). This represents a 634 pixels height per browser screen with my normal Safari settings (tools, bookmarks, tabs, status bars). My own webmaster's rule is that the most expensive real estate is within the first 500 vertical pixels, and I'm very sensitive to what is presented in that space which does not require scrolling. I appreciate that search engines include paid placement in their business model, but I do want to see useful (e.g. relevant and unbiased) results on the first screen. I will scroll as necessary to my search, but seeing nothing except ads at first makes me stay away. Add to that a world of difference in the various indexes, notwithstanding an alleged bias, which boils down to their relevance, MSN has still a long way to go in order to "Netscape" Google out of cyberspace.

If you want to dig deeper into whether MSN is biased, I suggest you try the same test with "Bill Gates". The results are equally interesting.

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