The Search Engine Experiment - a blind test where users rate relevance of results - reveals that Google is better, but not that much better. The methodology is reasonable - the only serious flaw might be if people are assuming Google is always relevant, then trying to pick the Google results. Or if people go for Google because they’re used to it, so the results are the most comfortable. For example, when I tried the test, I jumped straight for the results that included wikipedia, partly because it just felt more pure and Googlish. It turned out to be a Yahoo! result.
Anyway, taking the results at face value, how to explain MSN and Yahoo! being more relevant than the grand-daddy of search 60% of the time? Seth has a good theory:
Google is better because it feels better and quicker and leaner and easier to use. The story we tell ourselves about Google is very different, and we use it differently as a result … Music sounds better through an iPod because we think it does.
cf. Nicholas Negroponte in “Being Digital”explains he always puts on his glasses to eat steak - it tastes better that way. (BTW “Being Digital” is the greatest tech book never to make it on Joel’s MBA reading list. A real mind-opener, like Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Design).
So Google is a cognitive dissonance machine that actually has no clothes on? Hard to believe, but bring on more of these mashup experiments.