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Searching to the sound of Bing – Microsoft’s New Search Engine

Alex Christie

28 May 2009

On the 3rd of June, Microsoft are hoping the internet will be searching to a new sound, when they launch their new search engine, Bing. Bing is Microsoft’s biggest move to date in challenging Google at becoming leaders of semantic search, a search engine which revitalises and rebrands their tired Microsoft Live Search with the following new features:

Bing

Interface

For a start, the biggest change from Microsoft Live Search is a feature called the Explore Pane which organises search results into categories.  Taking the example of ‘Obama’, Microsoft realises that many of the results for Obama can be categorised into categories such as Biography, Facts, Quotes, Speeches, Images, Videos etc and provides these categories in a neat left-side navigation. Once a user clicks on a category e.g. Biography, they will be provided with10 biography-specific results. Initially, the categories won’t appear for every search but Microsoft say they’re likely to appear for searches related to:

Automobiles
Travel and Local
People
Health
Entertainment
Retail
Events

Even if the searcher doesn’t click on the category, on the main results, Bing shows 3 results from each category in the main section with subheadings over each group of results (so for ‘Obama’ search subheadings Biography, Quotes etc.). They call these groups of results ‘Web Groups’.  Web Groups are what Microsoft thinks are the topics most searched-for in relation to that particular search. As Bing provides 20 search results rather than 10 results on the first page, the Web Group results are not as imposing on the main search results as you would think.

Underneath the Categories on the top left-hand navigation, are Related Searches, which allow users to further refine their searches. An example used is a search for ‘St. Patricks Day’ will return related searches like: St. Patricks Day 2009, St Patricks Day Date, St. Patricks Day Parade etc. I know Google provides related searches too but it uses them in a more subtle way by whispering them at the bottom of the page. I think Bing will use Related Searches in a more courageous way and I think as a result, this will make it a far more used feature.

Other Features:

Video Listings. Video search will allow you to search by length, screen size, resolution. Not only that, but when you have found videos, you can play a thumbnail version of the video in the search results until you dcecide you want to click onto the full version of that video to go to that site.  This means users can view videos on the search listings without having to go to that site. As the internet grows to be a more video-driven medium, this feature could set it apart from Google.

Shopping Comparison. As Microsoft now owns Ciao, it will incorporate the shopping comparison engine into its search engine. This means, by typing in Canon Eos will return prices, reviews, ratings, and expert opinions and also links to accessories, software etc for that product.

Travel. This is something Microsoft has really targeted as potential to make ground on Google. As Microsoft has acquired Farecast, Bing will be able to provide grids showing which dates are cheapest to travel, maps to show you where the cheapest destinations are.

Local Search. Microsoft are promising a vast amount of maps and data to provide the best in local search. You’ll soon be Binging your way to a cinema or restaurant close to you.

Best Match is a feature of Bing which displays when it is very confident of providing what you’re looking for. Under the Best Match link, it provides site links similar to Google and also a search box to search within that particular website.

Instant Answers allows you to find answers to questions like the winners of sports events, or perhaps entering a flight number to get airline tracking information. This is something

Search History is a useful feature which appears on the bottom left of the search page. Search History keeps track of your search queries for up to 48 hours as long as you’re using the same browser. If you manually clear your history, then the history is gone. A small but underrated feature which I think will make a good addition

Quick Previews is a feature which I think could be one of the its best used. When you hover over a search result, Bing provides an excerpt of that page, which expands on the short description on a search listing.

So, you’ve read all the new features but there’s one underlying question on the back of your mind. So will Bing be the one to challenge Google? I will leave the final words to Microsoft Chief, Steve Ballmer, who describes “Bing is a decision engine” which will “inform people to make the right decision”. In that case, I’ll ask Bing.

Bing is currently launched in beta mode in the UK and will be launched officially on June 3rd.

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