Bing: Connecting People, Places and Things

When we launched Bing last June, we began a journey that had at its core a simple idea – that as the web and our usage of it have evolved, keyword search has remained a relatively static experience.  It was still valuable for quick, navigational queries where the keyword-to-URL mapping metaphor still makes sense.  But so much customer behavior had moved beyond this simple model, and there was some real data that showed there were some unmet customer needs in the search space.

We focused on moving the ball forward in a couple of key areas, most notably helping customers make faster more informed decisions.  User data shows clearly that the types of decisions we turn to search for were not being served well today.  You have heard us quote the stats before: 25% of clicks were the back button, nearly half of queries require refinement, and increasingly search sessions were longer, multi query efforts focused not on navigation but on the completion of some sort of complex task.

We were proud of the initial release of Bing, but realized that it’s only a small down payment on a much longer-term effort.

Over the past couple of months, we have continued shipping new features that help us continue to travel down this path.  Today we have some of our technical leadership team together with folks in San Francisco to talk about where we have been and where we are going, and demo some new features launching in Bing today.

The new stuff we are sharing today is really about changing the way we think of using the web to get things done in the physical world.  When we looked at what people were doing with search, we saw that people are increasingly trying to use ‘virtual’ systems to get things done in the ‘physical’ world (See the chart below).

Source: Decisions Discussion Board, November 2009, Internal Microsoft Study

That told us a couple of things:  first the ‘search’ experience needs to break outside the little white box we think of as search today.  It needs to begin its morph into an assistant that understands what you’re trying to do, where you’re trying to do it, and how you’re trying to talk to it.

Second, it hinted to us that the search of today – keyword to URL primarily – is not always the best way to help people get complex decisions made. 

Today we’re launching a set of experiences that we think can begin to address these insights.  We think we can start to both help people get things done faster and more confidently with search and begin to help us see what is possible when we stop thinking blue links and start thinking end-to-end experiences.

Location, Location, Location

First let’s take a look at the new Bing Maps experience.  One of the most interesting finds we’ve made is that customers say the typical mapping experience feels disconnected from what they’re actually trying to do in the real world.  Consumers who’ve grown up on MapQuest expect maps to show them how to get from point A to point B but they find themselves increasingly relying on mapping services to connect their virtual queries to their physical world. 

Many of the queries we see people making are actually rooted to physical places and decisions – think of some of the common ones you might do:

  • Planning a weekend: what is the community saying about this weekend’s activities around the house?  What can I expect to see at the farmers market?  What is the best way to get up to the islands given traffic work on the roads?

  • Running errands after work: how is traffic?  Is the drycleaner open to drop off clothes on the way home?  What time does the Mexican food place close and how is their takeout?  Is there an alternate route given the Coldplay concert tonight?

  • When meeting a friend for dinner:  where can I park?  Is there an ATM nearby?  What do foodies  say about the restaurant?  If our table isn’t ready, what about the small pub next door so we can wait in style?

At Bing, we dug into this disconnect between search in the virtual space (today’s standard keyword search) and search in the physical space that folks are literally doing every day.   We ended up developing something we’re introducing today: a new mapping experience that enables you to elegantly augment the things you’re already doing offline in your real life with an online experience.  We like to call this “spatial search”.

We like to call the underlying technology of this experience a physical canvas: our belief is that using a physical canvas can help you accomplish those tasks that you’re already doing online but today’s search engines are making you do the work to translate the virtual results to physical decisions.

A few cool features that I’m most excited about in this new spatial search experience:
The first thing this canvas allows us to do is provide a seamless exploration of your physical world.  From outer space to the street outside your favorite coffee shop, the new maps view lets you zoom, pan, and move around with ease. 

Our new Streetside imagery features allow you to get down to the street level and walk down the streets to find that good parking lot or figure out exactly where the door to the club is located.  Streetside is an excellent example of collaboration with Microsoft Research, Live Labs and the core maps team to build something that isn’t just a bunch of pictures stitched together, but an actual physical environment on top of which we can provide an experience that connects to information from across the web.

Which leads us to something I’m most excited about: our new Application Gallery.  This new platform, which is in limited release today, enables us to provide “mash-ins” on top of this new physical canvas.  The applications that we’re shipping today really highlight how information can transform into knowledge when imbued with a spatial dimension.  A few of the cool apps we’re shipping include:

  • Twitter: You can now see tweets on the map from their originating location.  Get realtime updates about events, breaking news, or even just tweets from your buddies about the quality of coffee at their favorite coffee house.

  • Local Lens: Here we actually index local blogs from around the US and using the clues in the posts, try and place them physically on a map.  You can use it to do things like see community happenings in your neighborhood. It’s an entirely new way to consume local crowdsourced information – something 72% of customers do routinely on the web.

  • What’s Nearby: So you’ve found the address of the business meeting you have, but where can you go to sync up your computer before the meeting?  With “What’s Nearby” we conduct implicit searches on your behalf to examine the physical canvas and show you types of businesses and services around your final destination.   You don’t even have to query – we do it all for you in the background and bring back results sorted into categories so you can easily find the nearest coffee shop with WiFi.

In addition to the new imagery in Streetside and the new platform technology, we have done some work to enable Photosynths generated by the community at large to be integrated into maps.  Imagine looking at a map of a city, and being able not only to go from outer space to the street, but being able to experience the location in a new and interesting way. Try this one – search for the ‘metropolitan museum of art in New York City’.  Enable Photosynths by clicking on the orange arrow in the bottom of the left pane. Choose the Photosynth map app and then click through to explore the museum in amazing detail.  The number and quality of community generated synths will continue to increase giving amazing context and texture to geo-spatial searching.

There are many more so go check them out.  We’re working hard to make this platform available to more developers in the future.  We’ve seen the community around mash-ups for location based services exploding and we want to enable a simpler way for these to be developed, shared, and layered without a person having to have their own dedicated hosting platform.


Search on the Go

We want the decision making tools in Bing to be available anywhere you need them.  This means a great experience on the mobile phone.  But the needs and scenarios and way we interact with the service are obviously different.  In a recent study, 70% of mobile search task were completed in one hour and 80% were completed in 1 day.  In contrast, only 35% of PC search tasks were completed in one hour and only 40% were completed in 1 day.  Even after a week, only 55% of PC search tasks were completed.  What did that tell us?  We needed to build something better for mobile that responds to the types of searches people are doing on these devices.

Our new Bing app for Windows Mobile is specifically designed for these devices and is tailored for the quick, on-the-go searches that go hand in hand with mobile devices – we like to think of it as your personal and local search engine. 

We’ve worked to build a number of functions that takes search “beyond the box”:

  • Type Less, search more: Typing can be tough on small devices.  Now you can easily speak your search query into your phone and let Bing do the rest.  We’ve really worked to improve the quality of recognition and level of understanding we have when you speak – I always use this first now.
  • Map Your Way: Quickly access maps, driving directions and traffic information so you can find where you are and get where you are going. The new application also includes an improved auto-locate feature to show your current location.
  • Act Locally: Wherever you are, Bing makes it easy to find a nearby business, a new restaurant, or even a local movie theatre with the latest show times.   You can quickly and easily bookmark locations and businesses for later reference.
  • Get Quick Answers:  Make decisions fast and on the go with the top web results and instant answers for your pressing questions. Save favorites and recent searches to a list so that you don’t have to repeat searches.

You can get this today at or by going to on your Windows Mobile device.

Turbocharge Your Browser’s Search

Last, we want to introduce the new “Bing Bar” for Internet Explorer and Firefox.  You can think of it as a ‘virtual assistant’ that keeps you informed, keeps you connected, and helps you get things done using search.   Go check out the whole bar at  but be sure you don’t miss these great new features:

  • Search Assist – start typing in the search box and see suggested searches, image suggestions, and your search history. Notice also how as soon as you signal to us that you’re going to ‘search’ we expose the search options (like images, videos, etc) in the bar.

  • Browse Plus – sometimes you don’t want to search – you want knowledge and information to come to you.  The Bing Bar pulls content from across the web and will even alert you to breaking news when it’s happening. You can also tell the bar to watch things for you – like stocks and sports – and let it handle the searches for you.

  • No-Fail Cash Detector: let the Bing Bar help you save money when shopping online.  Do a search on a site like and the Bing Bar conducts a “search” on your behalf, figures out if there are merchants where you can get Bing Cashback on that product, and alerts you by flashing the Cashback icon.

We know, long post, lots of data, lots of new features.  We’re tired too.  But we think there is such tremendous opportunity to do more for customers with search, sometimes we can’t help it.  We want to wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy holiday season, and we’ll be at the grindstone in 2010, so stay tuned.  Who knows, maybe we’ll surprise you with a couple of last-minute gifts before Father Time comes in to mess up the naughties. 

And remember you can always go to to stay updated on the latest stuff happening on the product.   

Satya Nadella
Senior Vice President, Online Services


Share on twitter Share on facebook Share on linkedin Share on linkedin