Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Microsoft's Bing Makes More UI Changes–And Checks In With Foursquare

Today, Microsoft’s search engine-that-could, Bing, will begin rolling out another significant upgrade to the user interface seen by consumers.

The software giant also announced on its Bing blog and at an industry conference that it would integrate status data from hot geolocation start-up Foursquare into its Bing maps as an app.

Bing has already been weaving updates from a variety of social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, into its services.

The New York-based Foursquare, a location-based social networking site that has been growing quickly recently, lets its users “check in” from a variety of locations. In Bing, it will be accessible via “Map Apps.”

Wrote Bing’s Todd Schwartz on the service’s blog in a post titled, “New Stuff Coming From Bing This Spring”:

The foursquare map app is a powerful combination of the spatial canvas that Bing Maps provides, combined with foursquare’s user reputation service ability to see who has unlocked specific badges, where and who has been crowned mayor of certain locations making it easier to explore any city in the world as if you were a local. Let’s say you’re travelling to New York City for the week, but you don’t know what’s hot in Greenwich Village. Selecting the foursquare Map App in Bing Maps, and zooming into to Greenwich Village will get you tips that show you what locals are saying about the hot spots in that area. It’s like an interactive day planner, designed to help find the best things to do in that area. And if you have questions, you can always contact users through foursquare to get the inside scoop.

More interesting, though, is the continuing drive to innovate Bing.

Starting today, pages served up by Bing–which you can see below compared with the old ones–will be more focused, with a range of new navigational elements meant to gauge search “intent” better.

This means relocating its “Quick Tabs” functionality to the top of searches from the side, for example, as well as a more defined “Bing Box,” which pulls information together better.

The goal, said Bing Director Stefan Weitz: To differentiate as much as possible from dominant search rival Google (GOOG).

“Google and Bing are diverging more than ever,” he said in an interview yesterday with BoomTown. “Google is focusing on gathering all the world’s information and we are focused on delivering knowledge based on a user’s intent.”

While it sounds a little like goobledygook, it’s probably a good competitive strategy for Microsoft (MSFT) to avoid competing directly with Google in search.

And so far, it seems to have worked, with Bing’s share growing slowly but surely over the year since its launch, mostly at the expense of Yahoo (YHOO).

Weitz calls the new look on the pages–which will start with a focus on celebrity, auto and travel searches and reach about five percent of U.S. users initially–“not a radical departure, but an evolution.”

And, indeed, new page results from searches for Lady Gaga and Miami Beach, for example, look only slightly different, with added navigational tabs on top and a more task-oriented feel.

In contrast, though, a search for Ford Mustang is dramatically different, with a more visual feel that is almost like a really informative brochure.

Here are screenshots of the befores and afters (click to enlarge):

Miami Beach (old):

Miami Beach (new):

Mustang (old):

Mustang (new):

Lady Gaga (old):

Lady Gaga (new):

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus