One of the things that they taught us in library school, and that I used to try to impart to my patrons when I did taught short courses on better searching at my old job was not to use a single system to do all your searching. By doing this, you’re setting yourself up for failure because even if it’s an algorithm running things, you’re restricting yourself to the results that one algorithm, constructed in whatever biased way, are going to bring results back.
Granted, I’m not perfect. I am a pretty devout Google user – I have gmail, my calendar is in gCal, I used to be obsessed with Google Reader. I store pictures and documents in Google Drive, and back up my pictures from my phone using Google Photo. And just like everyone else out there, I “google” things. Heck – it’s become its own verb to replace “to search online”, and there are snarky websites that allow you to “Google” things for someone else. Although a visit there recently showed me that they’re beginning to diversify too, and indeed you can “Ask”, “Yahoo”, or “Bing”. And as you can tell from the title of this article, today I’m going to talk a little bit about Bing. Not as a search engine – not really. Because in that case, it’s pretty darn close to a Google clone in terms of look, experience and feeling. You’re going to get a lot of the same stuff coming back, and will be able to do much of the same kind of searching you would do on Google with the same kind of tools. What sets Bing apart, and has guaranteed that I spend a few minutes on their search engine every day is the fact that they have a free rewards system.
So let me go back in time – a few years ago a friend at work mentioned to me that Bing – Microsoft’s answer to Google – had started a rewards program. Log in and use the search engine every day, and for every search (up to a pre-determined amount), you earn points. Points can then be redeemed for prizes with actual dollar values. I think back then he could get points for referring me, and while I have dug around on the Bing website to see if referral codes are still a thing there, they appear to not be. So for spending 5 minutes of your morning banging out these searches, once a month or so (if you’re steady), you earn yourself a small reward.
The way I’ve set it up for myself is this: I have a recurring calendar event reminding me to do my searches on Bing. I go in, do the web searches (or mobile if I’m not using a laptop/desktop), and the daily rewards. The web searches yield me either 100 or 150 points (mobile vs desktop searches) and I can do both if I’m feeling up to it. But every day now, I do the “daily set”. This set of three tasks usually yields around 50-70 points, but for each day that you finish it, you add to your streak. The first streak is 3 days, for which you get 45 points, at 5 days after that you get 75 points (do this twice), and at 7 days after THAT you get 105 points. I then believe you get a reward for every 7 days in a row, and this is all cumulative. At one point I had a 33 day streak, and was earning 105 bonus points every week. I lost that somewhere along the way (due to forgetting to do my daily tasks), and so am currently sitting on a 14 day total streak.
It’s a slow and steady slog. Assuming you do all the searches on your desktop every day (I usually just click through all the news stories, or else follow a trail of hyperlinks about celebrities and TV/movies), you get 150 points. If you do them on your phone as well you get another 100 points. If you do all the daily tasks you get 50-70 points, plus whatever streak bonus you earn (it works out to 15 points per day). Every once in a while Microsoft gives out free points. And then if you subscribe to emails or at least follow along in the Microsoft Rewards subreddit, you can earn a few more than you would normally. There are also rewards for completing special quests or punch cards that are related to buying games or movies through the Microsoft store. I believe if you have an Xbox, or play games through XboxLive you can earn more points that way, but I don’t know for sure. All of this works out to roughly 300 points per day, or upwards of 9000 points per month.
But what does that get you? Well, you can redeem your points for things that are generous and giving – like donations to Special Olympics, World Wildlife Fund, or the Trevor Project among other charities. You can throw your points away by entering sweepstakes (not worth it since winning is rare, and you can usually get one free entry). The best redemption values are for Microsoft-branded things, like gift cards to the Microsoft store, or XboxLive memberships. But if you’re someone like me, who is just working the grind in the background, you’ll want it for something else. As lazy as I am with my searches, I’m usually able to earn one gift card a month, and that one is always a $5 Amazon gift card. But I’m not sure everyone who hasn’t been doing the rewards system for years has access to the Amazon cards, and there are lots of other choices – Sephora, Starbucks, Target, Walmart, Sephora, REI. Lots of places where you might already be spending your dollars, and enjoy not having to spend 5 of your own at some various times.
I am by no means an expert. But according to my calculations and my Microsoft Rewards account information, I’ve earned more than 250K points in the 5.5 years I’ve been doing this. That works out to about 48 gift cards. That’s $240 for 5 minutes of my time each morning. Is it a slog? Sure, sometimes. But it also gets me hearing about the news the way I do my searches. Am I being used so that Microsoft can boost the numbers of daily users and numbers of searches done every day with Bing? Yes. Do I care, since I am being remunerated? …Not really that much. Is it something I think other people should do? I mean, why not? If you have the time, and the freedom to do the searches, it could be worth the small amount of effort to put into it. I am by no means a power user, so if you want tips on how to become one of those, go read the Reddit, and don’t ask stupid questions.
Details: Bing – sign up for an account on the top right.