Bing Your Brain: Satisfied and Delighted by Technology

Earlier this week, tech companies celebrated April Fool’s day and Bing was no exception. Harmless and laughable, these pranks got me thinking about the side of our business that we don’t talk about as often here at Bing: the simple human experience of being delighted by something. No matter if they are funny, insightful, or inspiring, we can get a lot of pleasure out of the things on the web and that makes them a part of our happiness.

In psychology, we often differentiate between two independent components of happiness: satisfaction (the lasting experience of pleasure you get from something) and delight (that momentary burst of bliss you get in the moment). While they sometimes come together, people are often surprised by how often they aren’t correlated.

For example, in one experiment, people were asked at random times throughout the day via cell phone how happy they were at that time and then asked at the end of the day for a rating of how happy they were overall. The two measures were almost entirely independent: how happy you feel moment-to-moment does very little to predict your overall sense of how satisfied you are with your life.

In search, we spend most of our time thinking about the satisfaction side of the equation, generally because search is thought of as a utility or a means to an end: you have a question or need to do something, and our primary job is to make sure that you get results that help you. The technical term is “relevance” and a tremendous amount of our time is spent trying to make it as high as possible, because it predicts important user behaviors, like preferring our search results over competitors.

But satisfaction isn’t our only business at Bing. Take, for example, the beautiful, high-resolution daily homepage image at Bing.com. While it may not increase your life satisfaction by helping you get something done, a quick look at Twitter and Facebook will tell you that it is a source of momentary delight for millions of people every day. The editorial team behind choosing the image carefully considers user happiness in every selection they make, working to maximize the surprise and delight we can get by simply taking a moment to explore our world visually.

clip_image002[4]

There is also the MSN Wonderwall. Regardless of your stance on the long-term satisfaction aspects of reading celebrity news, MSN’s Wonderwall is highly visual, highly dynamic, and absolutely focused on delight; the key word in “guilty pleasure” is “pleasure”. And on the same visual theme is Bing’s Friends Photosfeature, which allows discovery of the rich visual world that your friends are experiencing and sharing through their social networks.

And of course, there all the tiny things that many people never think about, yet still bring that momentary rush of pleasure. One of my favorites is video previews. In Bing’s Video Search, you can hover over a result and it will play a preview, so you can figure out if it is the kind of content you want without clicking on to another page. Is it a huge feature? No. And while it certainly has some utility, it isn’t the reason I use video search. But what it does do is surprise and delight me every time I need to use it.

There are thousands of little features that go into building a search platform that surprises and delights consistently and at Bing, we’re adding more all the time. Because while we care deeply about relevance and the practical application of search, we don’t just see our function as pure utility. So you can expect that we will continue to strive not just for your satisfaction, but your delight as well.

- Matt Wallaert, Bing Team