Monday, July 06, 2009

A Bing Overview. Part 1: Are the Features Any Good?

After making a concerted attempt to use Bing exclusively for the last week or so, there are a lot of things about Bing that are excellent. In Part 1, the good and bad features of Bing will be highlighted. Part 2 will focus on the impact Bing has made in the month or so since its launch.

Bing is Microsoft's latest attempt to take up arms against a sea of troubles in capturing more market share in search is Bing, its self-titled 'decision engine'.

The Explorer Pane - Bing reserves the left hand side of the search page for additional links, divided into three categories, Quick Tabs, Related Searches and Recent Searches. I found the Explorer Pane links more useful than not most of the time, especially the search history feature which saves the last 5 searches. Microsoft estimates that up to 50 percent of searches are repeated.

Preview Video in Browser - Bing's most discussed feature is probably its best. When SERP's include a video result, flying over the result with the cursor plays a preview of the clip without leaving the search page. For integrated videos from popular services like YouTube and Hulu, choosing the result plays in a larger in-browser window, also without leaving the search site.




Bing Travel - Bing Travel excels on two fronts. When searching for travel between two cities, Bing will offer its travel results first. For my sample search of New York to Boston, clicking the first Microsoft featured result promised, "Bing Travel utilizes over a billion airfares on a daily basis to bring you Price Predictors, and now we're using that data to uncover cheap flights from New York to Boston every day."

Incorporating technology from Farecast that Microsoft acquired a year ago, the results page will also create a graph showing the likely fares for the next 30 days. Bing will also recognize airport abbreviations, especially useful for cities with multiple airports.

The only downside to this feature is that it's currently available for only the most popular cities. Cities like San Jose and Las Vegas don't make the cut, but flights in and out of San Francisco from most big cities do. Also, while there is a link to Bing Travel from the main page, it is not one of the tabular links across the top.

Scroll for Images - Click on an image search, and Bing allows you to scroll through the first 500 results or so without leaving the search page. Flying over each image created a larger thumbnail, along with a link to the source, the original image size, and an invitation to refine your search by choosing similar images. On the left panel you can specify image size, layout (square, wide or tall are the default options), color, style and type of image for personal photos.

Real Time Search - Bing has also taken the lead in real-time search. First, Bing is giving more primacy in their search results to breaking news. A search for Brett Favre has news about his potential comeback as the top three results. Google’s results go to his website and Wikipedia. A recent TechCrunch review found pretty much the same thing.

Bing is also indexing and displaying Twitter posts in an innovative and informative way. As discussed in this great John Battelle article, for a select group of Twitterati, Bing will tease their profiles by posting their picture, Twitter username, and two most recent tweets in real time at the top of the search results page. Clicking “see more tweets” delivers you directly to their Twitter page. To this feature are having to structure the search query as “[name] twitter” or “@[name]”. Also, tweets are not indexed and displayed by Bing instantaneously, but rather more likely at some sort of interval, perhaps up to an hour. Looking at the Bing and Google SERPs side-by-side, the Bing SERP is definitely more attractive.

While indexing a few celebrities’ tweets is just the tip of the iceberg of search nirvana promised by the potential of real-time search, it is an area where Google and Microsoft are both starting on roughly equal footing. Continuing to index and display real-time, relevant search results will help Bing gain marketshare.

THE BAD


Preference for Microsoft Brands - Just when you were thinking "Hey, this Bing sounds pretty good", Microsoft bollixes it up with a move that is classic Redmond.

Numerous articles, including this one in CIO magazine, have noted that Microsoft is shading Bing results to give preference to its products and partners. In Google, using the search term virtualization, VMware, the market leader, is the first link on the results page after Wikipedia. With Bing, it is not on the first page of results, with Microsoft's Virtualization product ranked third, and a related search dedicated to "Virtualization Microsoft".

A search for smartphone had similar results. On Bing, the search had 'Quick Tabs' truncating the results to four links. Microsoft was at number two. On Google, Blackberry and HTC were the second and third results, respectively. Microsoft.com was seventh result.

Quick Preview - The concept of this feature is more interesting that its execution. An orange dot is to the right of the search result. Flying over it generates a few paragraphs of text about what the site is about and other links from the results page. Generally, the information is scraped from the site, ignoring the Description META tag (making text-based content on the site critical as per usual).

In practice, the information wasn't any more relevant than the standard description. Some sites did not have a Quick Preview. Sometimes it took a second or two to load. Sometimes the preview pane was blank. It was also especially aggravating for me as I usually position the mouse cursor around where the quick preview pane would pop up to scroll through the search results, requiring me to move it further to the right to avoid getting an epilepsy-inducing display of windows consistently opening and closing.

Quick Tabs - With Quick Tabs, Microsoft stretches the SERP page, and inserts its own "categories" of results. For instance, my search for '30 Rock' was broken into Quick Tabs for Theme Song, DVD, Characters, Wallpaper, Quotes, etc. It then displays the top 3-4 SERPs for each category. If you want to more results, you click the "See More Results" link, which brings up a full page of links, not including the links on the prior page.

Why wouldn’t searching for 30 Rock Wallpaper or DVD’s just be a related search? The longer SERP pages were an improvement, considering the primacy of the blended search results, but I hated having to scroll down to see if one of the three results were on the page, and then having to click through if it wasn't. Also, if you wanted more results, the top results were not retained on the “more results” page – instead those results were the 4th through 13th results. If you chose to use one of the ‘Quick Tabs’ as a link and clicked directly through, you’d get the same page that had already excised the top 3 or 4 most relevant results. The categories weren't always helpful (wallpapers?). Moreover, the same resource page could be used to populate numerous categories. In the 30 Rock example, Wikipedia featured prominently in 6 of the 7 tabs.

Conclusion

Bing has some promise. I think it has surprised a lot of people with its feature set, and while it is not going to topple Google any time soon, hopefully it will spur more innovation in the search space. And Bing certainly has seemed to caught the attention of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Titled “Fear Grips Google”, this New York Post article says: “Sergey Brin is so rattled by the launch of Microsoft's rival search engine that he has assembled a team of top engineers to work on urgent upgrades to his Web service.”

Bing’s market share is also growing. While it’s too early to make any reasonable predictions of long term success, in the week ending June 12, 2009, Bing’s worldwide market share has increased from 13.7 to 16.7 percent, per ComScore. Even though it has Google worried, Yahoo should be even more worried. On the U.S. side, StatCounter reports that Bing has eaten into Yahoo’s market share even more, moving from 7.2% of the search market to 8.3% in the two weeks since its debut. Yahoo’s share is down to 11% with Google at just over 78%.

Author: Chris Pantages with contributions by Laura Reichle, WebMama Team Members

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