Google and Microsoft are the only two major search engine vendors (that I’m aware of) at this conference. After talking to reps at both booths today, and seeing what was going on at them, I’m about to commit geek heresy: Microsoft is beating the pants off Google, at least in substance.
Google’s booth is very gimmicky. You get a scratch off card, and go around talking to their reps to get the answers to the six questions on it. The questions cover Google’s resources for librarians, Google Scholar, and Google book search. Get them all right, and you get to pick an item of Google swag. T-shirt, hat, journal, etc. But there’s nothing to stop you from scratching off multiple cards and claiming multiple prizes. So that’s what a lot of people are doing. Meanwhile, the reps’ (all attractive young women, naturally – possibly not the best choice to talk to a profession that is so largely female) knowledge is not very deep. They each know their station, and how to get you the info needed to answer another scratch off question, but little else.
Microsoft’s booth, focused on their new Academic Live search, is wholly different. Sure there’s still swag, (nalgene water bottles) but there’s nothing wrong with swag in general and they don’t make you jump through pointless hoops to get it. Meanwhile, the MS reps are actually involved in the site’s development and know their stuff down cold. You can tell they’re really proud of Academic Live, and have a lot of fun showing off little random features. I asked them how they were going to handle linking Academic Live to various openURL resolvers, and was instantly greeted by the guy in charge of that aspect of the system. He asked for a few details, gave me his card, and said to e-mail him when I get back to work. He’ll get our resolver set up on Academic Live quickly, instead of waiting for the automated system they’re developing to kick in sometime down the road. A question I asked on a similar topic at the Google booth was greeted with blank stares.
I’m not making a judgement just yet on whether Google Scholar or Academic Live is the better product. But Microsoft earned itself my serious consideration today, whereas before I would have been tempted to dismiss them without a second glance. Substance trumps Style.