However, Bing also attracted some controversy. In November 2009, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof accused Microsoft of "craven kowtowing" to the Chinese government by offering "sanitized pro-Communist results" in response to Bing searches in Simplified Chinese for terms such as "Tiananmen" and "Dalai Lama."
In response, Adam Sohn, senior director of Bing, wrote Nov. 20 on the official Bing blog, "Today's investigations uncovered the fact that our image search is not functioning properly for queries entered using Simplified Chinese characters outside of the PRC (People's Republic of China)." Sohn claimed that the bug would be fixed before the 2009 Thanksgiving holiday.
A few days after that alleged fix, eWEEK typed into Bing's search box Simplified Chinese terms considered politically sensitive by the PRC, such as "Tiananmen Square" and "Falun Gong." The results seemed inconclusive.
Meanwhile, Bing continued to add features. On Dec. 2, Microsoft announced new features for the search engine that included a beta version of its new and improved Bing Maps. In addition to Streetside, which provides users with an eye-level view of local terrain, Bing Maps offered Twitter Maps, which displays tweets originating from particular geographic locations. A new Bing Bar for Internet Explorer and Firefox placed much of Bing's functionality in a series of one-click icons beneath the browser's URL bar.
By January, Bing Maps Silverlight site was no longer a beta, and had gained two more features: Local Events, which studs a map with pins showing the day's happenings around a particular locality, and Destination Maps, which lets users specify locations and then render the map around those areas in one of four stylistic fashions: "Sketchy," "European," "American" and "Treasure Map."
By that point, Bing occupied some 9.6 percent of the U.S. search market, according to analytics company Experian Hitwise, while Google occupied 70.6 percent.
In response to rising concerns about the privacy of user data being stored by search engine providers and social networking sites, in January Microsoft announced that it would delete the stored IP addresses of Bing users after six months.
"We will delete the entire Internet Protocol addresses associated with search queries at six months rather than 18 months," Peter Cullen, Microsoft's chief privacy strategist, wrote in Jan. 18 on the Microsoft On The Issues blog. "The change is the result of a number of factors, including a continuing evaluation of our business needs, the current competitive landscape and our ongoing dialogue with privacy advocates, consumer groups and regulators."
Bing saw its U.S. market share dip from 9.62 to 9.43 percent for the period between March and April, according to Experian Hitwise. During the same period, Google's market share gained incrementally, climbing from 69.97 to 71.40 percent.
However, Bing also experienced strong growth in a number of vertical industry categories. Hitwise reported that the percentage of U.S. upstream traffic sent from Bing to shopping sites increased 100 percent year over year; to health-related sites, it increased by 105 percent; to travel sites, by 71 percent; and to automotive sites by 95 percent. In contrast, Google, despite putting in a higher overall number of searches, experienced lesser gains in those categories, with a 15 percent increase year over year for shopping, -6 percent for health, 6 percent for travel and 11 percent for automotive.
According to at least one Microsoft executive, Bing's focus on "nontraditional areas" such as event-driven tasks and commercial queries-which could very well translate into the sort of verticals growth recorded by Hitwise-was deliberate.
"As we look at how people are using the Web itself and how the Web is changing, we think we can expand that which people do with these engines," Bing Director Stefan Weitz said to eWEEK in March. User behavior, he said, would be the ultimate arbiter of Bing's road map.
Weitz also acknowledged Google's substantial lead in traditional keyword search.
"People are happy with keyword-based search," he said. "People are creatures of habit, and they're fairly happy with Google's keyword search today, and they think it works well and there's no reason for them to look around." However, Weitz added, Bing will continue to compete in that arena, even though "the more exciting place, and the place we're looking at more often, is how we expand the art of the possible in search."
But Ballmer, speaking at the Search Marketing Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., March 2, suggested that Bing still has a long way to go if it wants to eventually overthrow Google: "I don't know how old I will be when that'll happen."