Microsoft redesigns Bing to combat ‘search overload’

Microsoft has unveiled its biggest redesign yet of Bing, its search engine, in a bid to better organise information retrieval and incorporate the social web into its results.

The redesign was shown off and explained at a press event yesterday in San Francisco by Microsoft’s top search executive Qi Lu.

The main change sees the introduction of a section called ‘sidebar’, positioned on the right hand side of the screen, which incorporates relevant posts from a person’s Facebook and Twitter contacts during a search on Bing.

Microsoft, a small shareholder of Facebook, still has search indexing deals in place with both the social network and Twitter – unlike Google.

“The sidebar will appear as part of every query, but it will remain off to the right, allowing searchers to decide when and how to interact with it. We’ve moved most of the social content out of the main search pane and put it in a dedicated place where people can always expect to find it,” a blog post written by the Bing team says.

The key features of the sidebar include ‘Ask Friends’. This allows Bing users to post a question to get help from their Facebook friends as they search. People can “tag” friends Bing suggests might know about the topic. In a few clicks they can share their search and their friends can reply to your question on either Facebook or Bing.

And ‘Friends Who Might Know’ – which, once a person authorizes Bing, the sidebar helps users post a question to get help from their Facebook friends as they search. Bing suggests friends on Facebook who might know about the topic – based on what they “like”, their Facebook profile information, or photos they have shared – so users can easily ask them about relevant experiences and opinions and go quickly from searching to doing. People and their friends can only see information they could already see about each other on Facebook.

The sidebar also suggests people’s public posts of tweets who are considered an authority on the subject a person is searching about.

The social bar is being seen as a part response to ‘Google Search plus Your World’, which pulls in a user’s Google+ network into their search results, and launched earlier this year to criticism from Twiter and Facebook.

Lu said the major redesign, which will be rolled out in the US “over the next few weeks” and then is expected to come to the UK after that, was about “reorganising the web for task competition” and combating “search overload”.

The redesign sees straight algorithmic search results appear in a first column on the left of the screen and then a new middle column called ‘snapshot’ pull up an index of things and places – which allow the user to complete tasks without leaving Bing, such as booking theatre tickets – just by hovering the mouse over a relevant result.

Lu said search needed to fuse the social graph of the likes of Facebook and Twitter, with related content into search if it is to remain the gateway of the web.

Microsoft is losing around $500m a quarter in its online business – largely because of Bing. It still only accounts for around 16 per cent of the search market, while Google dominates with a 66.4 per cent share.

Filed in: Social Media, Technology

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