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Microsoft Previews Planned Bing Facelift

Less than a year after releasing its Bing search engine, Microsoft plans to give it a facelift this spring. The updated Bing will render more contextual and visual information, including real-time data feeds within the interface.

Microsoft will be rolling out previews of some of the changes in the coming days with a complete update to Bing set to go live in the coming months. Yusef Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s online audience business, unveiled some the new features planned for Bing in a keynote address Thursday at the Search Engine Strategies 2010 Conference and Expo in New York.

Mehdi also acknowledged the Bing interface on a prototype smart phone running Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Mobile Phone 7, which was first previewed to developers at last week's MIX 10 conference.

Since its release last June, Bing has steadily gained share of the search market at market leader Google's expense. Bing accounted for 12.5 percent last month according to Nielson Co. That's a 15 percent jump over January. Despite Microsoft's gains with Bing, Google still remains the dominant search engine, accounting for 65 percent.

Mehdi defended Microsoft’s earlier failed approaches at besting Google in the search market before launching Bing last year. "In search we definitely missed the boat early on," Mehdi said. "The Web was about the long tail. We actually focused a lot on the head of the queries and said the long tail might not be as important. It turned out that it was much more important."

In concert with Mehdi's introduction of the updated Bing, Microsoft outlined some of the key planned changes on its Bing blog. Among the updates that Microsoft will begin testing that Mehdi demonstrated include plans to move the Quick Tabs function to the top of the page. Mehdi also emphasized Microsoft's plans to continue its drive toward adding more visual and contextual results, Mehdi said.

"We are taking this in a direction where it is helping you get the task done, not just giving you the links," Mehdi said. For example, he demonstrated a scenario where a user may be looking for a customer service telephone number, noting such information is the most difficult to find on most companies' Web sites.

Mehdi also previewed a feature where Microsoft has embedded photos that it has gathered of specific locations. He demonstrated Seattle’s historic Pike Place district and a scenario where a customer can determine how long the line is at a Starbucks location via Bing Maps.

Indeed, providing real-time streams will also be a key thrust, Mehdi said, pointing to the company’s work with Twitter that it is rolling into Bing. Mehdi also demonstrated a Silverlight-based application by closely-held foursquare, a company that provides real-time activity streams from specific locations tied to Bing Maps.

One attendee of the keynote asked Mehdi if Microsoft’s efforts to render more contextual data within Bing would result in fewer click-throughs to sites. Mehdi responded that he doesn't see cause for concern. "What we have found is there are more, richer click-throughs when you add richer captions," he said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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