The Bing Updates Were Developed in Response to User Research

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2012-05-10 Print this article Print

"People are using the Web to do things in the real world, and that€™s a big change from where things were a decade ago,€ said Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz, in a statement. €œAnd so the 10 blue links that search has been predicated on for the last decade no longer make sense. Simply put, that€™s not how you get things done.€

The new features include:

  • Improved Web Results: Consumers can perform traditional Web searches faster, with more relevant results using the new, cleaner user interface.
  • Snapshot: Users can quickly complete tasks by viewing useful information related to their searches and compiled by Bing as a single €œsnapshot,€ all in one place in a separate column.
  • Sidebar: Consumers can take action based on the recommendations of friends and experts in the Sidebar€”displayed in a third column, separate from main Web results page.

"When people search the Web, they want to find what they€™re looking for and find it fast. Yet only one in four searches is satisfied by the first query. €œSo three out of four times, you have to do something else to get the answer you want,€ said Weitz. €œIf your car only started one out of four times, you€™d be pretty upset. Yet when searching the Internet, people have been forced to live with poor results.€

With Bing, engineers improved the relevancy of Web searches by removing unnecessary links and simplifying the results to the core set of information users are looking for. They also separated out most social network results from the main Web results. €œBoth Bing and Google were starting to jam social signals into the Web results, and it turns out it wasn€™t that relevant and it was overloading users with clutter,€ Derrick Connell, Microsoft€™s corporate vice president of Bing, said in a statement. €œWith this release, we€™ve taken most of that out of the Web results and given users the traditional search results that they love and expect.€

Perhaps most significant, the new Bing revolutionizes the search experience by bringing in social signals in the right way and making it easier for users to take action based on the advice of friends and experts, Microsoft said. Ninety-two percent of people trust word-of-mouth recommendations from their friends and family above all other forms of communication, according to Microsoft research. Yet only 8 percent use social networks as a way to get things done.

€œBefore the Internet, mostly how you got things done was through people; you€™d ask your friends, you€™d call your Mom, you€™d get insights from co-workers,€ said Connell. €œToday, more and more people are joining social networks, chatting about things on Facebook and Twitter, but it€™s very difficult to capture their knowledge on a Web page.€

Microsoft said that€™s where Sidebar comes in. When searching for a particular subject, a list of Facebook friends who may know about that topic is displayed in a light-gray sidebar on the right-side panel of the results page.

€œSo if you query €˜Hawaii,€™ user models in the network look at public information in your profile such as where your friends live or have lived, what they€™ve liked on Facebook, and photos€”and turn up a list of people who likely have information relevant to your query,€ said Sandy Wong, principal development lead for Bing, in a statement. €œYou€™ll still see search results for Hawaii within the traditional Web search results. But now you€™ll also be able to consider the advice of your friends who may know something about Hawaii.€

Users can post a question and include Web links to get input from the friends Bing suggests, and friends can respond on Facebook or Bing, offering recommendations to help with the search, Microsoft said. €œThe goal is to surface the people who have knowledge about a particular topic,€ says Connell. €œWe want to make it easy for people to accomplish anything they set out to do by allowing them to tap into the wisdom of their friends and of the broader Web€”the 95 percent of things people know but never write down.€

The Sidebar also displays the names of experts and enthusiasts who have blogged or tweeted about topics related to one€™s search. Users can click on the person€™s name and read their blog or follow them on Twitter.

Meanwhile, as engineers worked to improve performance, a team of about 20 designers revamped the user interface to make it simpler and cleaner. €œOne of our goals with Bing was clarity of information,€ said Robert Dietz, principal design manager for Bing. €œWe wanted to remove the noise and the extraneous information so that the real heroes on the page would be the results.€

€œIt€™s really a completely different user interface,€ said Sally Salas, a lead program manager at Microsoft, in a statement. €œIt looks cleaner, which makes it easier to quickly scan the main results down the left edge while providing supplementary information in the snapshot area and recommendations from your friends in the sidebar.€

Microsoft has also improved the search experience with €œSnapshot,€ a new feature that displays useful information about a specific place or topic in one location in the middle column of the search results page. If a user searches for hotels in San Francisco, for example, in the main search results, Bing will surface results for hotels including hotel star ratings, locations and average rates. Snapshot takes it a step further by letting people select check-in and check-out dates, see interior views of the property and read reviews to help them find and book the best hotel in the area.

€œUp until now, people would have to visit different sites, read reviews about that hotel and cobble them all together to form an opinion,€ said Weitz. €œWith Snapshot, we do the heavy lifting by assembling the most useful information in a way that allows people to quickly consume it and make it valuable.€

Initially, Snapshot will be displayed for searches where Bing can determine a clear customer intent focused on accomplishing a specific task, including finding restaurants, hotels, businesses and movies. Over time, the feature will be expanded to a greater number of places, things and people. €œThe technology we built on the back-end can scale incredibly well, so we€™re particularly pleased,€ said Connell.

Consumers can sign up at to be notified of availability for their PC, and at to receive notification of availability for smartphones.

Gartner analyst Ray Valdes praised the new release of Bing, saying the social search component has the potential to increase user loyalty and engagement over the long term. €œMicrosoft shows determination in the ongoing search engine competition, and a willingness to invest in innovation,€ he said in a statement.

€œWe€™ve now entered a new era of search,€ said Lu. €œWe have begun an important journey that is no longer just about pulling in a bunch of Web pages. It€™s about completing tasks quickly and efficiently with the help of Bing, the best of the Web, and people and experts we all trust.€

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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