'Topeka' is the Indian word for "a good place to grow potatoes." And even though the wheat and corn crops grow in greater abundance today, two Internet search engines view the potential of this 122,000-person-town as two very different type of spuds. While one treats it like "small potatoes," the other likens it to "potatoes au gratin," or a great side dish to whet one's appetite.
Back in March, 79-year old Mayor Bill Bunten seized on an opportunity to become one of Google's very first "Fiber" cities. Fora full month, Bunten announced his city would be known as "Google, Kansas." Since the Web giant was seeking cities to install their Internet connections with speeds 100 times faster than those found elsewhere, Bunten felt that the name change would give Topekians a competitive edge.
Unfortunately, as the Big G, in all of its infinite wisdom would have it, it was a "no go" for the potato hamlet. And if that wasn't difficult enough bad news to swallow, the search giant seemingly poured salt over the Mayor's wound by selecting Topeka's neighboring city, Kansas City, Kansas to become Google's first fiber metropolis.
“In selecting a city, our goal was to find a location where we could build efficiently, make an impact on the community and develop relationships with local government and community organizations," Google announced in their blog. "We’ve found this in Kansas City."
John Burchett, state policy counsel for Google Inc. in Washington, D.C said he would not discuss why Topeka didn't receive Google's nod or the merits of any of the other cities under contention. He confirmed only that the decision came down to "technical stuff" such as pole attachments. Pole attachments?
Well, with Google tossing the town aside like a "hot potato," could Kansas's capital city become a opportunity for Bing? Well, the jury's out, but faster than you could say "one potato, two potato," Bing seized the opportunity to capitalize on Google's missed step.
With their quest to prove they are the "little search engine that could," Bing has not only played it up big with expensive TV ads to support its "Bing it on Challenge" initiative, it also moved into Topeka to introduce Topekians to their version of a speedier Internet.
Bing's blog further outlined how simple their campaign really was. "The experiment we did first was fairly simple: participants entered a query of their choosing, got side-by-side results from both Bing and Google but with all branding removed, and picked which one was better for them (or declared it a tie)."
The blog attested to its validity with 25 million folks now having taken on the "Bing It On" Challenge. "Even taking away some of our most innovative features and with the handicap of using Google's top search queries, Bing still comes out on top, with 52% of people preferring Bing’s results over Google’s, 36% preferring Google’s, and 12% choosing Bing and Google equally (for those that favor discarding ties, that’s 60% Bing, 40% Google when people had a clear preference)."
So did Google lose a major opportunity in pulling out of Topeka? And is Topeka a microcosm of the world at large as to which search engine might see the greatest strides in the future? With no rebuttals from Google (as of this posting), Bing's market share has risen to an all-time high of 17% while Google dropped slightly from 67.1% to 66.5% in April. So that "little search engine" should not be ruled out just yet. Seizing the Topekan opportunity might have been the tipping point for a shift in the search engine wars where Bing's David might just be wirery enough to slay its Goliath.