Bing and Google : Smoke a Fatty and Chill

David Coursey | Friday, October 02, 2009 7:35 AM PDT

Tech Inciter– PC WORLD

bing_google

OK, so after the hoopla, Microsoft‘s Bing search engine may have fallen back to earth. Is Microsoft supposed to just give up? Not hardly.

New statistics show Microsoft’s share of searches is down below 4 percent, having risen during the previous three months. Google, meanwhile, captures 90 percent of search traffic.

I am not sure I totally believe these newest statistics, from NetApplications and StatCounter. Nielsen’s numbers are quite different, as are Comscore’s — both giving Bing a much larger share of the search pie. Let’s give it a month or two before declaring Bing’s honeymoon to be over.

Bing was introduced in May as the successor to Microsoft’s previous search engines.

Microsoft continues to spend heavily on search technology research and development. Bing is only the tip of the iceberg, though progress is slow because search is such a huge problem. Anything you develop that improves search must be almost infinitely scalable and able to be offered for free.

That’s a pretty tall order. You need innovation in all areas, including the business plan, to take search to the next level.

Bing is an example of what I call a “demographic” search engine, tailored not to be all things to all searchers, as is Google, but to attract a defined audience. In Bing’s case, that means shoppers.

I believe but cannot prove that Bing may generate more revenue per search (in terms of customer spending as a result of searching) than Google. Even if that were true, however, it would only dilute Google’s leadership by just a smidge.

The Yahoo/Microsoft deal, should it pass regulatory muster–and it deserves to–will help Bing’s share, but won’t do much to reduce Google’s numbers.

While Google is today, for most people, the first word in search, I don’t think it’s the last word. Even with ongoing changes to improve accuracy and make results easier to manipulate and digest, Google searches still return way too much of what I don’t want.

If it takes looking through three pages of results to find what I wanted, Google has failed me. I know I am expecting Google to be psychic–essentially to understand what I want even when I have a hard time explaining it–but with all Google knows about me, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request.

Maybe Google will meet this challenge. Maybe it will be Microsoft. The betting favors Google, but you never know what will happen. The Netflix prizewinners are examples of what can be done to match users with improved search results.

Bing is wise to follow its current course. It will probably never challenge Google in overall numbers, but it could easily find a place in the market as the search engine that does specific things better than Google and generates traffic as a result.

It is too early to judge Bing’s success or failure. Its share drop was to be expected. Its progress will be slow. But, it is still a player and should Microsoft’s R&D create a breakthrough, Bing will be there to launch it.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web page.

Stimulus: How to Know If It’s Working

February 11, 2009

BUSINESS WEEK

Consumer confidence and job creation may be slow to emerge and hard to measure, but boosts in umemployment benefits and food stamps will be fast acting

By Moira Herbst

bama1At his first prime-time press conference, President Obama was asked a central question about the $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package: How will Americans know if it’s working? “My initial measure of success is creating or saving 4 million jobs,” Obama answered.

That was on Feb. 9, a day before the Senate passed an $838 billion version of the bill by a vote of 61-37, following the Jan. 28 passage of an $819 billion version in the House. The House and Senate have begun negotiations to reconcile the measures, which Obama would like to sign into law by Feb. 16, the federal Presidents’ Day holiday. When people have a job, Obama explained, they purchase and invest, allowing companies to do the same and, in turn, to hire more workers as business expands.


Indicators of Success

Yet while job creation is arguably the most important goal of the stimulus package, other parts of the bill will have a much more immediate and visible impact. Food stamp increases and extensions of unemployment benefits will be among the first noticeable effects of the package. Tax credit payments for individuals and families would follow, along with other tax breaks and incentives. Rising consumer confidence and lower unemployment will be far more gradual, and aren’t likely to surface until late 2009 at the earliest.

There’s an understanding among many economists that the sooner a government intervenes in an economic crisis, the more effective it tends to be in getting the economy back on track. That doesn’t mean that precise measurement of success is easy, however. “The problem is, we don’t know what trajectory the economy would take without the stimulus package,” says J. Bradford DeLong, an economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley. “We can’t enter a Star Trek-like divided universe in which we compare what’s happening with the stimulus versus without it. It’s hard to precisely judge its impact.”

DeLong says that looking at interest rates will provide a clearer idea of whether the stimulus plan is working. “If interest rates stay extremely low, the plan is definitely working,” he says. “If Treasury interest rates do start to rise by more than normal levels, then we worry that [the spending] is crowding out private economic activity and discouraging investment.” Specifically, he says that if medium- to long-term Treasury bond interest rates climb two or three percentage points higher in the next year and inflation sets in, the stimulus package is not having its intended effect.

Swift Help for the Neediest

Of course, how one benefits from the stimulus package depends on several factors, including income, professional skills, and where you live. “What you’ll see [in benefit] and when you see it depends on who you are,” says Steve Ellis, vice-president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a taxpayer advocacy group. “If you are living hand-to-mouth, you should have greater access to food stamps and other assistance right away. If you’re employed and not doing as well but hanging on, you won’t see much change unless a [federally funded] construction project starts up nearby. For them, the government hand will be less visible and less direct.”

Direct assistance for the poor and unemployed, considered as among the most effective stimulus measures, will be the first to take effect. Both the House and Senate bills offer an additional $20.2 billion to extend emergency unemployment benefits for more than 3 million people whose state benefits are set to run out after March. They also offer an extra $25 a week in jobless benefits to millions of workers through the end of the year; the current average weekly benefit is $293.

The packages also would give $7 billion to states that adopt reforms that make it easier for part-time workers, low-wage earners, and women to qualify for benefits. The proposals vary in the amounts by which they would increase food stamp benefits and additional medical assistance for low-income, unemployed workers under Medicaid, but both include spending for these items. An additional $17 billion in the stimulus bills would boost the maximum Pell Grant for higher education by $400 per applicant and provide other financial aid. Along with extended benefits, the unemployed may start to see shorter lines at the unemployment office. Both stimulus bills give states $500 million to help process unemployment applications, which have been overwhelming state systems across the country.

Tax Credits and State Aid

Working and middle-income Americans will benefit from the $82.1 billion in tax credit payments the plans offer. The House plan would give individuals earning up to $75,000 a year a tax credit of $500 and couples earning up to $150,000 a year a tax credit of $1,000. (The Senate bill lowers the income cap to $70,000 for individuals and $140,000 for couples, which critics say would reduce the stimulus effect.) Taxpayers can receive this credit either by claiming a credit on their 2009 and 2010 tax returns or by reducing their withholding from their paychecks. Other tax incentives to encourage auto and home purchases, included in the Senate bill, would be experienced by consumers at the time of purchase.

Later this year, the effects of other spending will become more visible. The bills offer states tens of billions in “state stabilization” money, to fund grants for education and to patch holes that have emerged in many state budgets. (The House bill sets aside $79 billion in state stabilization funds, the Senate bill cuts that to $39 billion.) Another $3 billion is earmarked for state and local law enforcement.

In the meantime, the stimulus plans are expected to create or save jobs in various sectors of the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House version of the bill would create between 1.3 million and 3.9 million jobs by the end of 2010. While police officers and teachers might feel the effect immediately, other workers would find jobs later this year on such projects as modernizing electrical grids, building highways, and weatherizing federal buildings.

Metrics May Prove Elusive

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys.com (MCO), says that if the package works according to Washington’s plan, unemployment insurance claims should start to drop in the summer and continue through the fall. He warns, however, that the unemployment rate will be slower to fall because layoffs will offset some of the gains. Some economists say that even as the unemployment rate does begin to fall, it will be hard to measure what would have happened without the economic stimulus plan.

The stimulus is likely to provoke heated “Did it work?” debates for years to come among politicians, economists, and the public. “We are throwing a rock into our nation’s economic pond, and the ripple effects will spread throughout the economy,” says Ellis of the taxpayer group. Still, he says the impact might be more muted than many would hope: the annual U.S. gross domestic product is $13 trillion, while the stimulus package is about $900 billion over several years. Says Ellis: “It’s a big rock, but it’s a very big pond.”

Herbst is a reporter for BusinessWeek in New York.

Paul Krugman: “On the Edge”

February 6, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
On the Edge

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.

It’s as if the dismal economic failure of the last eight years never happened — yet Democrats have, incredibly, been on the defensive. Even if a major stimulus bill does pass the Senate, there’s a real risk that important parts of the original plan, especially aid to state and local governments, will have been emasculated.

Somehow, Washington has lost any sense of what’s at stake — of the reality that we may well be falling into an economic abyss, and that if we do, it will be very hard to get out again.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much economic trouble we’re in. The crisis began with housing, but the implosion of the Bush-era housing bubble has set economic dominoes falling not just in the United States, but around the world.

Consumers, their wealth decimated and their optimism shattered by collapsing home prices and a sliding stock market, have cut back their spending and sharply increased their saving — a good thing in the long run, but a huge blow to the economy right now. Developers of commercial real estate, watching rents fall and financing costs soar, are slashing their investment plans. Businesses are canceling plans to expand capacity, since they aren’t selling enough to use the capacity they have. And exports, which were one of the U.S. economy’s few areas of strength over the past couple of years, are now plunging as the financial crisis hits our trading partners.

Meanwhile, our main line of defense against recessions — the Federal Reserve’s usual ability to support the economy by cutting interest rates — has already been overrun. The Fed has cut the rates it controls basically to zero, yet the economy is still in free fall.

It’s no wonder, then, that most economic forecasts warn that in the absence of government action we’re headed for a deep, prolonged slump. Some private analysts predict double-digit unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office is slightly more sanguine, but its director, nonetheless, recently warned that “absent a change in fiscal policy … the shortfall in the nation’s output relative to potential levels will be the largest — in duration and depth — since the Depression of the 1930s.”

Worst of all is the possibility that the economy will, as it did in the ’30s, end up stuck in a prolonged deflationary trap.

We’re already closer to outright deflation than at any point since the Great Depression. In particular, the private sector is experiencing widespread wage cuts for the first time since the 1930s, and there will be much more of that if the economy continues to weaken.

As the great American economist Irving Fisher pointed out almost 80 years ago, deflation, once started, tends to feed on itself. As dollar incomes fall in the face of a depressed economy, the burden of debt becomes harder to bear, while the expectation of further price declines discourages investment spending. These effects of deflation depress the economy further, which leads to more deflation, and so on.

And deflationary traps can go on for a long time. Japan experienced a “lost decade” of deflation and stagnation in the 1990s — and the only thing that let Japan escape from its trap was a global boom that boosted the nation’s exports. Who will rescue America from a similar trap now that the whole world is slumping at the same time?

Would the Obama economic plan, if enacted, ensure that America won’t have its own lost decade? Not necessarily: a number of economists, myself included, think the plan falls short and should be substantially bigger. But the Obama plan would certainly improve our odds. And that’s why the efforts of Republicans to make the plan smaller and less effective — to turn it into little more than another round of Bush-style tax cuts — are so destructive.

So what should Mr. Obama do? Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. What matters now, however, is what he does next.

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Numerous Myths and Falsehoods Advanced by the Media in Their Coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

dogchapmansp

Media Matters for America previously identified numerous myths and falsehoods advanced by the media in their coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As debate on the bill continues in Congress, other myths and falsehoods advanced by the media about the recovery package have risen to prominence. These myths and falsehoods include: the assertion that the bill will not stimulate the economy — including the false assertion that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the bill will not stimulate the economy; that spending in the bill is not stimulus; that there is no reason for stimulus after an economic turnaround begins; that corporate tax rate cuts and capital gains tax rate cuts would provide substantial stimulus; and that undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers could receive the “Making Work Pay” tax credit provided in the bill.

1. The bill will not stimulate the economy

In a February 1 article, The Associated Press reported an assertion by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the recovery bill will not stimulate the economy without noting that the CBO disagrees. ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson echoed this assertion during his February 3 interview with President Obama, stating: “And as you know, there’s a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed and that it really doesn’t stimulate.” Additionally, on the January 28 edition of his show, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh allowed Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to falsely claim of the bill: “Even the Congressional Budget Office, controlled by the Democrats now, says it is not a stimulative bill.” Fox News host Sean Hannity repeated this claim on the February 2 broadcast of Fox News’ Hannity, asserting that the CBO “say[s] it’s not a stimulus bill.”

In fact, in analyzing the House version of the bill, H.R. 1, and the proposed Senate version, the CBO stated that it expects both measures to “have a noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years.” Additionally, in his January 27 written testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf said that H.R. 1 would “provide massive fiscal stimulus that includes a combination of government spending increases and revenue reductions.” Elmendorf further stated: “In CBO’s judgment, H.R. 1 would provide a substantial boost to economic activity over the next several years relative to what would occur without any legislation.”

2. Government spending in the bill is not stimulus

Several media figures, including CNN correspondent Carol Costello, CBS Evening News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, and ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson, have all uncritically reported or aired the Republican claim that, in Gibson’s words, “it’s a spending bill and not a stimulus,” without noting that economists have said that government spending is stimulus. Indeed, in his January 27 testimony, Elmendorf explicitly refuted the suggestion that some of the spending provisions in the bill would not have a stimulative effect, stating: “[I]n our estimation — and I think the estimation of most economists — all of the increase in government spending and all of the reduction in tax revenue provides some stimulative effect. People are put to work, receive income, spend that on something else. That puts somebody else to work.” Additionally, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has said, “[S]pending is stimulus. Any spending will generate jobs. It is that simple.”

3. There is no reason for stimulus after a turnaround begins [Read more…]

98% of Cities in America Report Unemployment Rise

skylook1
CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — In a sign that job losses are felt in every corner of the nation, unemployment rates rose in 98% of metropolitan areas across the country in December, according to a recent government report.

The Labor Department reported that the unemployment rates in 363 of 369 metropolitan areas rose in December 2008, compared with the same month in the prior year. In November, 364 of 369 areas reported higher unemployment rates.

According to the report, 168 areas reported jobless rates of at least 7%, compared with just 33 a year ago, and 40 areas reported rates that were higher than 10%. Just 22 metropolitan regions had unemployment rates that were under 4%, down from 112 last year.

A total of 95 regions registered unemployment rates that were at least 3 percentage points higher than a year ago. Not one region had a jobless rate decrease of more than 0.2 percentage point during that period.

Though the rise in unemployment rates depicts the rampant job losses facing the country, the Labor Department does not adjust the rates in its metropolitan unemployment report for typical seasonal changes in employment.

Furthermore, smaller cities are usually dependent on a fewer number of employers, so layoffs can exacerbate those areas’ unemployment rates.

El Centro, Calif. continued to hold the highest rate of unemployment at 22.6%. The town on the border of Mexico is highly reliant on agricultural employment, according to economists. The unemployment rate has a tendency to rise and fall in the area depending on the farming season.

Morgantown, W.Va., had a rate of just 2.7%, the lowest in the country. Morgantown houses West Virginia University, which is the town’s largest employer. The University has a large hospital and pharmaceutical manufacturing component – areas of the economy that are actually adding jobs.

Of the 49 metropolitan areas with a population of at least 1 million, Detroit had the largest unemployment rate, at 10.6%, followed by San Bernadino, Calif., with 10.1%. Detroit’s labor force has been slammed by dreadful auto sales, and the sinking California housing market has dragged down construction jobs in that area.

Oklahoma City had the lowest unemployment rate of large metropolitan regions, at 4.6%, followed by Washington at 4.7%. Oklahoma City is benefiting from the still-booming energy industry, especially through the several large natural gas companies in the city. Washington’s employment is largely based on federal government jobs in the district.

The report comes on the same day as two independent reports showed job cut announcements and payroll reductions continued to rise in January.

The Labor Department is expected to report Friday that the economy lost another 500,000 jobs, according to a consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com. The national unemployment rate is expected to rise to 7.5% from its current level of 7.2%, its highest rate since January 1993

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