Bing director Stefan Weitz sat down with eWEEK March 24 to describe how Microsoft's search engine will try to take advantage of evolutions in social networking and Web services to gain market share. Toppling Google's dominance of the search market, however, doesn't seem to be a viable short-term goal.
"We don't have to beat anybody to take share," Weitz said, essentially reiterating what he told eWEEK in another wide-ranging interview a year ago: Microsoft's Mountain View rival might hold the lion's share of the market for traditional keyword-based search, but Bing remains perfectly happy to exploit verticals such as travel, and leverage partnerships with companies such as Facebook.
Bing holds around 13.6 percent of the search-engine market, according to research firm comScore, behind Google at 64.5 percent. Yahoo, whose back-end search is powered by Bing, owns a 16.1 percent share.
Search is ultimately determined by the underlying structure of the Internet. Years ago, when Google started using PageRank to dominate the search market, the Web was primarily a very large set of hyperlinked pages. You could read information, book a plane ticket through an airline's Website, order a book off Amazon.com and-if you were willing to wait, and wait, and wait-download some content via your 56k modem's drip-drip-drip connection. The emphasis on keywords made the older Internet, in Weitz's words, "a Web of nouns."
But thanks to natural evolution, Weitz said, the "fundamental structure of the Web seems to be morphing," adding to the traditional web-of-pages a few new layers: a social one, as represented by Websites such as Twitter and Facebook; a geospatial element, which essentially seeks to create a digital representation of the real world; and more powerful services. Bing is seeking to play on all those layers, in the process sidestepping Google's dominance of keyword-based search in favor of new and relatively untapped verticals.
Weitz suggested that the Web's social layer is increasingly mimicking, in search, the same sort of behaviors people exhibit in the real world. For its own part, Microsoft has moved to leverage that trend via its deepening relationship with Facebook: Within Bing search, Websites "liked" by your Facebook friends feature their names and images alongside a "liked this" notation. (Not every query triggers the Facebook link, however.)
Facebook and Microsoft have also collaborated on Facebook Profile Search, which leverages a user's Facebook connections to deliver more relevant results for people searches. Users can also post messages to their Facebook walls via Bing's pages for specialized content; for example, typing "Limitless" into Bing search offers a link to the Bing Movies page for the recent film by the same name-and the ability to input a Facebook message about same.
Microsoft's broader record in social-networking integration is a bit more mixed. In October, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, who had championed the integration of cloud and social networking into Microsoft's product portfolio, resigned from the company. The company incubator he started, FUSE Labs, continues to work on initiatives such as Docs.com, which allows Facebook users to create and share Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents with .PDF support and full-text search.
But social networking also comes with privacy concerns. "We have to separate the social from personal," said Weitz. A good portion of Bing's social integration is anonymous (for example, the massive reams of Twitter data used to tailor individual users' searches, as seen in Bing's Matchbox technology), but Microsoft-he claims-has pulled back from some potential Bing features capable of more deeply leveraging personal data.
The second layer, geospatial data, represents the Web's attempts to give the real world what Weitz termed "full representation digitally on the Web." In theory, that means leveraging the Web's information to create expansively detailed portraits of a particular place or object: for example, Bing using data from Yelp and other sources to offer up a specific restaurant when the user types in the search terms "bar," "Flatiron District," "basement" and "private room." That layer can help refine and direct user search in ways not possible-or at least very difficult-in the pages-of-hyperlinks paradigm.
The third layer is the Web's increased focus on robust services, such as booking flights or securing local deals. Hence Bing's traditional focus on verticals such as travel, and newer initiatives such as a "Deals" tab that lets mobile users access daily discounts in their particular area. That additional focus on booking and services, said Weitz, helps prod the Internet from its previous state as a "Web of nouns" to a more active "Web of verbs," enabling users to more effectively do things in the real world.
"We see the Web going in this direction," he added. "It's a long game." And, evidently, an evolving one.