Microsoft May 11 unveiled a major update to its Bing search engine, which the software giant claims will fundamentally transform the way users search the Web. With an eye toward social media, Microsoft also made sure this new version of its search engine offered users a way to integrate information from their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Microsoft said the update is the most significant since the company launched Bing three years ago and is designed to help users act quickly by taking advantage of the Webs evolving fabric, which has become increasingly social.
“With the new version of Bing, rolling out over the coming weeks and broadly available in the U.S. in early June, people can easily get advice and recommendations from friends and experts with the new social sidebar,” according to Microsoft.
Users also can view useful, action-oriented information via the new Snapshot feature. And they can find what theyre looking for faster, with more relevant results and a refreshed user interface. All this is presented in a new, three-column design that focuses on helping users take the leap from finding information to making quick, informed decisions.
Liveside.nets Kip Kniskern cited the new Snapshot and Sidebar features of the new Bing in a May 10 post:
“Last week, we saw Bing roll out a new design featuring a clean, new look, the removal of the left-hand sidebar, and an uncluttered, simple and fast architecture. Now today, with the announcement of the New Bing, we see the reason for cleaning up all that area and creating all that white space: two new components of Bing, announced today, will enable search for the first time ¦ to flow across social networks, according to Qi Lu, Microsofts president of online services, who spoke at a press event and Webcast today.“
Increasingly, the Web is about much more than simply finding information by navigating a topically organized graph of links, said Lu, in a statement. Were evolving search in a way that recognizes new user paradigms like the growth of the social graph, and will empower people with the broad knowledge of the Web alongside the help of their friends.
The new Bing updates were developed in response to user research showing that people use search engines to save time and get things done quickly, Microsoft said. More than two-thirds of consumers use search to accomplish tasks, according to a Microsoft user survey. Yet 60 percent wonder whether they have found the best information available for what theyre trying to do, and 52 percent find themselves entering multiple queries and visiting lots of sites for searches that shouldnt be so hard.
The Bing Updates Were Developed in Response to User Research
“People are using the Web to do things in the real world, and thats a big change from where things were a decade ago, said Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz, in a statement. And so the 10 blue links that search has been predicated on for the last decade no longer make sense. Simply put, thats not how you get things done.
The new features include:
- Improved Web Results: Consumers can perform traditional Web searches faster, with more relevant results using the new, cleaner user interface.
- Snapshot: Users can quickly complete tasks by viewing useful information related to their searches and compiled by Bing as a single snapshot, all in one place in a separate column.
- Sidebar: Consumers can take action based on the recommendations of friends and experts in the Sidebardisplayed in a third column, separate from main Web results page.
“When people search the Web, they want to find what theyre looking for and find it fast. Yet only one in four searches is satisfied by the first query. So three out of four times, you have to do something else to get the answer you want, said Weitz. If your car only started one out of four times, youd be pretty upset. Yet when searching the Internet, people have been forced to live with poor results.
With Bing, engineers improved the relevancy of Web searches by removing unnecessary links and simplifying the results to the core set of information users are looking for. They also separated out most social network results from the main Web results. Both Bing and Google were starting to jam social signals into the Web results, and it turns out it wasnt that relevant and it was overloading users with clutter, Derrick Connell, Microsofts corporate vice president of Bing, said in a statement. With this release, weve taken most of that out of the Web results and given users the traditional search results that they love and expect.
Perhaps most significant, the new Bing revolutionizes the search experience by bringing in social signals in the right way and making it easier for users to take action based on the advice of friends and experts, Microsoft said. Ninety-two percent of people trust word-of-mouth recommendations from their friends and family above all other forms of communication, according to Microsoft research. Yet only 8 percent use social networks as a way to get things done.
Before the Internet, mostly how you got things done was through people; youd ask your friends, youd call your Mom, youd get insights from co-workers, said Connell. Today, more and more people are joining social networks, chatting about things on Facebook and Twitter, but its very difficult to capture their knowledge on a Web page.
Microsoft said thats where Sidebar comes in. When searching for a particular subject, a list of Facebook friends who may know about that topic is displayed in a light-gray sidebar on the right-side panel of the results page.
So if you query Hawaii, user models in the network look at public information in your profile such as where your friends live or have lived, what theyve liked on Facebook, and photosand turn up a list of people who likely have information relevant to your query, said Sandy Wong, principal development lead for Bing, in a statement. Youll still see search results for Hawaii within the traditional Web search results. But now youll also be able to consider the advice of your friends who may know something about Hawaii.
Users can post a question and include Web links to get input from the friends Bing suggests, and friends can respond on Facebook or Bing, offering recommendations to help with the search, Microsoft said. The goal is to surface the people who have knowledge about a particular topic, says Connell. We want to make it easy for people to accomplish anything they set out to do by allowing them to tap into the wisdom of their friends and of the broader Webthe 95 percent of things people know but never write down.
The Sidebar also displays the names of experts and enthusiasts who have blogged or tweeted about topics related to ones search. Users can click on the persons name and read their blog or follow them on Twitter.
Meanwhile, as engineers worked to improve performance, a team of about 20 designers revamped the user interface to make it simpler and cleaner. One of our goals with Bing was clarity of information, said Robert Dietz, principal design manager for Bing. We wanted to remove the noise and the extraneous information so that the real heroes on the page would be the results.
Its really a completely different user interface, said Sally Salas, a lead program manager at Microsoft, in a statement. It looks cleaner, which makes it easier to quickly scan the main results down the left edge while providing supplementary information in the snapshot area and recommendations from your friends in the sidebar.
Microsoft has also improved the search experience with Snapshot, a new feature that displays useful information about a specific place or topic in one location in the middle column of the search results page. If a user searches for hotels in San Francisco, for example, in the main search results, Bing will surface results for hotels including hotel star ratings, locations and average rates. Snapshot takes it a step further by letting people select check-in and check-out dates, see interior views of the property and read reviews to help them find and book the best hotel in the area.
Up until now, people would have to visit different sites, read reviews about that hotel and cobble them all together to form an opinion, said Weitz. With Snapshot, we do the heavy lifting by assembling the most useful information in a way that allows people to quickly consume it and make it valuable.
Initially, Snapshot will be displayed for searches where Bing can determine a clear customer intent focused on accomplishing a specific task, including finding restaurants, hotels, businesses and movies. Over time, the feature will be expanded to a greater number of places, things and people. The technology we built on the back-end can scale incredibly well, so were particularly pleased, said Connell.
Consumers can sign up at www.bing.com/new to be notified of availability for their PC, and at m.bing.com to receive notification of availability for smartphones.
Gartner analyst Ray Valdes praised the new release of Bing, saying the social search component has the potential to increase user loyalty and engagement over the long term. Microsoft shows determination in the ongoing search engine competition, and a willingness to invest in innovation, he said in a statement.
Weve now entered a new era of search, said Lu. We have begun an important journey that is no longer just about pulling in a bunch of Web pages. Its about completing tasks quickly and efficiently with the help of Bing, the best of the Web, and people and experts we all trust.