Microsoft Bing Director Mum on Real-Time Data Deals with Twitter, Facebook

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-21

SAN FRANCISCO-The director of Microsoft's Bing search engine has declined knowledge of the data integration deals with Twitter and Facebook his boss is expected to announce at the Web 2.0 Summit today, Oct. 21.

BoomTown's Kara Swisher reported earlier the same day that Microsoft had struck deals to index real-time status updates from Twitter and Facebook on Bing, and that Qi Lu, president of Microsoft's Online Services Division, would announce those deals here at the event.

Microsoft Bing Director Stefan Weitz said he had nothing to announce at this time regarding the rumored status update indexing. When pressed on whether Lu would announce those deals here today, Weitz said with a coy smile, "I have no idea."

Indexing real-time information from Facebook and Twitter could give Bing an advantage over Google, which has been slow to index Twitter tweets and other real-time search info. A new Google Search Option surfaces information within the hour.

Bing already indexes Twitter tweets, so it is unclear what this new deal, which is nonexclusive, would mean for Microsoft. But, as Swisher noted, adding Facebook's 40 million updates a day from its audience of more than 300 million could help. It would also be a marked departure for Facebook, which has been loath to free data from its walled garden.

Weitz' noncommittal comments came in a question and answer session after his talk about how Bing is addressing the challenge of tackling Google, the search leader with 65 percent of the market. One of those moves is a bid to power No. 2 search engine Yahoo, which has about 19 percent of the market share.

Asked how the deal with Yahoo is progressing, Weitz said the deal is still going through the regulatory process, so the "Yahoo stuff is so far away operationally." Weitz said Microsoft cannot build the back end to power Yahoo search until regulatory agencies bless the deal.

The Department of Justice is scrutinizing the deal; on Oct. 19, advertisers asked the DOJ to bless the agreement, which would have Bing power Yahoo search for 10 years, with the lion's share of traffic acquisition costs going to Yahoo. Microsoft meanwhile would be powering nearly 30 percent of the search market and would benefit from the wealth of search data Yahoo has accumulated over the last 15 years.

Responding to another question, Weitz said he isn't worried about Google copying some of Bing's more innovative features, noting that his team spends less time worrying about what Google is going to do than about what Microsoft can do with the data it collects from users' searches.

He also said Bing features are too complex to copy unless programmers have a lot of time on their hands, and pointed to the Farecast travel price prediction service as an example. Farecast, however, enjoys the protection of being patented.

Weitz also discussed several ways Bing is trying to meet the unmet needs in search, noting that 25 percent of its searchers hit the back button in searches because the queries they submit don't produce solid enough results.

For the Bing team, this means collecting a lot of data and making it actionable. For example, Bing works to reduce clicks required on its search engine results pages.

Map searches will feature additional results, such as hotel and other travel-oriented information to keep users from flitting from one search to the next. Users also receive captions to search results and can hover the mouse over results to see more info about those results.

Bing also relies heavily on semantic search results from its Powerset acquisition, allowing users to pose queries such as, "How is plastic made?" Bing surfaces results from Wikipedia, Freebase and other sites to provide the answers. Bing is publicly making use of semantic search in ways that Google isn't.

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