Microsoft Bing Search Engine Incorporates Wolfram Alpha, Local News

Microsoft adds features to its Bing search engine, including localized news and weather, an expanded video page, and search results from Wolfram Alpha, a so-called computational engine designed to provide users with a definitive answer to a search query. Although Wolfram Alpha specializes in offering answers to mathematical queries, its ability to display other types of answers such as nutritional information could appeal to Bing's core consumer audience.

Microsoft announced new functionality for its search engine, Bing, on Nov. 11, including augmented search results and an expanded video page.

"Expanded" may actually be something of an understatement, as Microsoft seems to want to turn Bing's video page into a robust destination that can compete with Google's YouTube. In fact, YouTube will be one provider of videos on Bing's revamped page, along with Hulu, MSN Video and ABC.

"This change will combine the powerful search experience of Bing with the expertise of MSN video, all in one destination," Kristin Meldahl, a member of the Bing team, wrote in a Nov. 10 post on the official Bing blog. Meldahl claimed that Bing Videos will offer over 900 television shows.
Those who need to find information as opposed to seeing who dies next on "Lost" may be more interested in Bing's other new features, which include localized results for weather and events, hover preview and tweaks to Bing Shopping. These new features, which will roll out to the entire customer base over the next few weeks, bear echoes of Microsoft's revamped MSN homepage, which also uses Bing to ferret out local information.

In addition to more granular weather and news options, Bing will begin displaying results from another search engine that, while not a rival, made waves over the summer for its unique approach to data mining.

"Today we are excited to unveil some work we have been doing with Wolfram Alpha," Tracey Yao, Bing program manager, and Pedro Silva, Bing product manager, wrote in a Nov. 11 post on the official Bing blog. "We'll be providing access to Wolfram Alpha's advanced algorithms and expertly curated data within the Bing experience."

For example, Wolfram Alpha displays nutritional information for specific products typed into its search bar, such as "chicken breast." Bing will now port that functionality onto its site, so that anyone typing "chicken breast" will receive Wolfram Alpha's nutritional data-conveniently laid out in a manner similar to the labels on food packages. Chicken breast, by the way, has 115mg of cholesterol (52 percent daily value) and 57g of protein (113 percent daily value) for a 212-gram serving.

The added Wolfram Alpha functionality will appear on Bing "over the next several days," Yao and Silva wrote.

Originally launched on May 18, Wolfram Alpha differs from traditional search engines by offering itself as a "computational engine" providing a definitive answer to a question rather than a page of hyperlinked search results. Of particular interest to engineers and others in math-heavy professions is the ability to type an equation into the search bar and receive results in return.

On June 9, Wolfram Alpha incorporated additional linguistic forms, more comparisons of composite properties (such as "U.S. military versus UK") and updates to time zones and currencies. In total, some 1.1 million data values were touched "in some way" by the update, according to the search engine's official blog.

Wolfram Alpha is the brainchild of Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research and creator of Mathematica, a computation platform the symbolic code of which forms the core code base of Wolfram Alpha. Google co-founder Sergey Brin supposedly interned with Wolfram in the 1990s.

Although Wolfram Alpha seemed unlikely from the outset to challenge Google's dominant position in the search marketplace, Google may have been inspired or spooked enough by some of the computational engine's functionality to roll out Google Squared, a search application through Google Labs that structures information into customized tables. For example, typing "dogs" into the Squared search bar will return a table of information listing different breeds.

With regard to Bing, the improvements may help the search engine continue to slowly increase its share of the search engine space. A Nov. 11 research note by Experian Hitwise indicated that Bing occupied about 9.6 percent of that market in October, while Google dipped by 1 percent to 70.6 percent. That study also suggested that Yahoo's market share had slipped by 1 percent, to 16.1 percent. A search advertising deal between Microsoft and Yahoo, signed in July, may cause Bing's market share to rise in 2010, once it begins powering back-end search on Yahoo's sites.