Microsoft's Bing Bar Includes Facebook, Controversial Feedback Feature

Microsoft's updated Bing Bar includes some new features, including Facebook integration, as well as the optional feedback feature that sparked trouble with Google.

Microsoft is unveiling Bing Bar 7, a redesigned and updated version of its search-engine toolbar. The Bing Bar not only gives users easy access to a search bar, but also their Facebook and email accounts. For those users who opt to do so, the new Bing Bar will continue its predecessor's trend of sending their search data back to Microsoft, a feature that caused the company some minor trouble with Google earlier in February.

The new Bing Bar includes a centered search box, which breaks down a query via a pop-down menu into color-coded categories: search history (purple), suggestions (black), and deep links (top right). The user can navigate through those search-results options via the arrow keys.

The Bing Bar also leverages Microsoft's continuing relationship with Facebook. "People told us that they spend a huge amount of time on Facebook these days, and we are building on our relationship with Facebook to bring a great Web experience to our joint customers," Joshua Schnoll, a member of the Bing team, wrote in a Feb. 17 posting on the Bing Community blog. "We use the notification capabilities to let you know that you have new activity on your Facebook account, so you can stay connected no matter what you're doing on the Web."

In addition, the Bing Bar features Facebook and e-mail alerts, weather advisories, translation alerts for Websites in languages different from your browser, and breaking-news updates. The application's e-mail preview supports Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail.

The Bing Bar found itself at the center of a minor controversy earlier in February, after Google accused Bing of copying its Web-search results. "Microsoft doesn't deny this," Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, wrote in a Feb. 1 e-mail to eWEEK. "At Google, we strongly believe in innovation and are proud of our search quality. We look forward to competing with genuinely new search algorithms out there, from Bing and others-algorithms built on core innovation, and not on recycled search results copied from a competitor."

In a widely circulated Feb. 1 posting, the blog Search Engine Land had detailed what it called Google's "sting operation" against Bing, which apparently began after Google executives grew suspicious of how closely some of Bing's search results mirrored their own. After finding terms with no matches on either search engine, Google created "honey pot" pages that appeared on the top of search results for those terms. When a small portion of Bing search results seemed to mirror Google's force pages, the search-engine giant began leveling accusations.

Which Microsoft, of course, denied. "We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop," Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice present of Microsoft's online services division, wrote Feb. 2 on the Bing Community blog. "We have some of the best mind in the world at work on search quality and relevance, and for a competitor to accuse any of these people of such activity is just insulting."

Instead, Mehdi countered, Bing had been suckered into a trap. "In simple terms, Google's -experiment' was rigged to manipulate Bing search results through a type of attack also known as -click fraud'," he wrote. "As we have said before and again in this post, we use clickstream optionally provided by customers in an anonymous fashion as one of 1,000 signals to try and determine whether a site might make sense to be in our index."

Despite that blowup, Microsoft made no changes to alter the use of clickstream data in its latest version of the Bing Bar.

"As we've said before, clickstream data is one of more than 1,000 signals used to determine ranking," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in a Feb. 17 e-mail to eWEEK, when asked whether users' Google searches could continue to be incorporated in Microsoft's feedback stream. "What we will continue to do-with our customers' permission-is use the data that they choose to share so that we can return more relevant search results."

According to research firm comScore, Bing's share of the U.S. search market stood at 12 percent in December 2010, behind Google at 66.6 percent.