NEW YORK -- Microsoft is making improvements to its Bing search engine to surface answers more quickly for its users in the hope of helping them make purchasing decisions.
Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of the Online Audience Business for Bing, demonstrated these changes at the Search Engine Strategies show here March 25. The alterations, which go live for all users this summer, are the latest move in the company's effort to gain more market share from Google.
Bing's quick tabs feature, which sits in Bing's left rail to let users click once to refine search queries taking weather, events and maps into account, will soon surface information to the top of the page for one-click access.
Mehdi conducted a search on the pop artist Taylor Swift, which returned links for images, news, events videos and reference articles directly under the search box instead of in the left rail.
Clicking on the events quick tab brought Mehdi to a list of concert dates for Swift. Clicking on a date surfaced prices and links to purchase tickets for the event from purveyors such as Ticketmaster and StubHub.
This also works for Bing Travel. Mehdi searched on Bing for "Miami Beach" returned maps of the area, as well as weather results, hotels, spas and other info much higher in the results than before. He clicked into Bing Travel, where it offered him the chance to book flights and hotels.
"This really resonates with consumers," Mehdi said. "They get tired of the links and the text. They want to come in and see the images and visuals as a way to discover information."
The Bing team is also leveraging real-time search results in addition to its Bing Twitter site. Specifically, Mehdi showed that when users search for a publication such as the New York Times, Bing will return not only the customer service phone number of that publication, but the most popular shared links from that publication.
Mehdi then surprised the crowd by demoing the Bing search application for a Windows Phone 7 Series smartphone. Though in prototype, the executive scrolled up and down the touch screen, and searched for sushi restaurants.
This particular device was just in Las Vegas for CTIA; the device recognized that city as the location and retrieved Las Vegas-based sushi restaurants. Mehdi then accessed the ratings and reviews sections, which looked very clean.
Mehdi then showed changes to Bing Maps, specifically how Bing is providing street-level views for users and letting users overlay photos onto interactive maps. For example, he took a Pike Place market photo from 1919 and put it on the current Pike Place map.
Another exciting tool that is forthcoming is a live action video feed on Bing Maps. In his demo, Mehdi showed a live feed of a man throwing fish in a Pike Place market. This was overlaid atop the current Pike Place map on Bing.
Mehdi said users will be eventually able to search Bing Maps to see if there is a line at the local Starbucks, or whether a bus is coming on time.
"Here you have the amazing power of geospatial data rendered in a 3-D, accurate picture and then you can overlay and have other people overlay it," Mehdi said.
He then called Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley to the stage. Mehdi and Crowley previewed a new map app that brings data from the Foursquare location-sharing app into Bing maps to help users see where their friends are in real time. Users can see who has unlocked specific badges and where and who has been crowned mayor of certain venues.
"This is one of the first times we've really been able to visualize Foursquare on a map like this, which is great," Crowley said.
The partnership with Foursquare, recalling Microsoft's deals with Twitter and Wolfram Alpha, underscores the company's commitment to integrating with popular Web services.
The Foursquare integration on Bing will be live in the next couple of days. Roughly 5 percent of current Bing users will see some of these other search features now.
These changes are part of Microsoft's gradual but steady attack on Google, the market share leader in the U.S. with 65 percent of search users. Bing has roughly 11.5 percent, but stands to gain more fairly quickly as it continues its back-end integration with Yahoo.
Bing Director Stefan Weitz recently told eWEEK Microsoft is focusing on determining user intent in searches to deliver more valuable results. Mehdi made the same case at SES.