Bing v. Bing

A giant corporation is taking my name for its search engine. At least I'm not the only one this has happened to.

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By Stanley Bing

(Fortune) -- On May 28, Microsoft proclaimed it would launch a new search engine that would compete in the vast hunt for search bucks. In an incredible act of sagacity, it announced that the name of the new search engine would be ... Bing. Uh-huh. Microsoft top elephant Steve Ballmer mentioned something about Bing being the "sound of found." No duh. I found it. Some time ago, in fact.

As you can imagine, this has concerned me quite a bit. I have to ask myself, What happens when somebody nabs your name for its gigantic corporate purposes? I realized there was only one person I could consult. He's very old now, and his circumstances are much diminished. But I found him, in a seedy tavern in Van Nuys, Calif., where he was nursing a beer before setting off for the races at Santa Anita. Following is a transcript of our conversation.

Stanley Bing: Mr. Google, thanks for taking time to speak with me.

Barney Google: Don't be a fool. Buy me a drink.

Bing: You were once quite famous, Mr. Google. The comic strip of which you were the star still appears in 21 countries.

Google: It don't matter. I was here first, but since the Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) hotshots came along, nobody gives a horsefeather for me.

Bing: In a song from 1923, you were called "the most important man this country ever knew," as well as "the greatest lover" and, for some reason, "the greatest fire chief."

Google: (laughs, coughs up phlegm): They said my sneeze could put the fire out! (Unintelligible)

Bing: You were in shorts, cartoons, and two live-action films along with your friend Snuffy Smith. As recently as 2006, you appeared in a DVD that captured 20 episodes of your classic animated series.

Google: Just try searching my name, though. Forget it! I'm almost completely not optimized. It's creepy!

Bing: I know. I don't want to be mean, but I bet not one person in 100 reading this column today knows who you are. They certainly don't think about you when they hear the word "Google," as they did for much of the century just past.

Google: I can't talk when my throat is so dry ...

Bing: When did you feel the whole thing turning?

Google: It was in 1940, when Columbia University math professor Edward Kasner asked his 9-year-old nephew to come up with a word he could use for a very large number. I was at the height of my brand awareness then, and the kid said Google.

Bing: Kasner misspelled it as Googol.

Google: Yeah, but the damage was done. Folks started seeing Googol as a mathematical concept. There was confusion all of a sudden. It's not a coincidence that around that time I moved out of Beverly Hills and into the Valley.

Bing: Then the Mountain View guys came along and changed it back to its original spelling - yours.

Google: And I'm left to suck hose water. I mean, I'm on YouTube and everything. But you think I can get a table at Dan Tana's anymore?

Bing: Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) just announced it was going to spend, like, $100 million on an ad campaign for its new search engine, called Bing.

Google: Aren't you Bing?

Bing: I thought so.

Google: I get it. I bet you could use a drink, right?

Bing: Don't you think this could be good for my brand? There are people all over who now are aware of me who weren't before ...

Google: Yeah, you may get a bump in the beginning.

Bing: But ... ?

Google: My landlady has a one-bedroom over the garage.

He scurried off not long after that, muttering something about seeing a man about a horse. I was left sitting there in the darkened bar. I felt kind of thirsty all of a sudden.

STANLEY BING's latest book is Executricks, or How to Retire While You're Still Working (Collins), available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at bingblog@gmail.com. For more Bingstuff, go to his website, stanleybing.com. To top of page

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