Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging Microsoft Bing's Search Summit 2010: There Will Be Donuts (and Also Cream Puffs!)

After BoomTown complained at December’s search summit held by Bing about the lack of the finest pastry known to man–namely, donuts!–minions were dispatched by top Microsoft geek general Satya Nadella to fix the dire situation.

And, happily, at Search Summit 2010, there on the lovely snack table were a small pile of them–which looked like Krispy Kreme to me.

There were lacking the key sprinkles feature, but carb crisis averted!

Speaking of features, top Bing execs were on hand in San Francisco to show off all the work they have been doing over the last year in the software giant’s efforts to topple mean old Google (GOOG) via an innovative offering.

Even the plain-speaking Nadella acknowledged in his opening it was still a bit of a children’s crusade, since Bing had barely broken into double digits in search market share and Google was hovering around 70 percent.

But the most recent report released this week by comScore (SCOR) showed continued promise, so Microsoft (MSFT) presses on its long and pricey road!

Here’s my liveblog of this morning’s event at the software giant’s San Francisco office:

10 am PT: Nadella opened with the donuts news. Nice move.

Then, it was onto some promising stats of growth, which have surely been promising, despite the high price tag (Microsoft’s online division lost $700 million in the last quarter, to give you an idea of the sticker shock).

Still, as search exec Brian MacDonald said, as he was presenting all the many new features–such as cards–added over the last year: “We’re in it to win it.”

At the end of his presentation, in a slide title “Future,” he said reporters could not take pictures or video. Sure, hop us up on sugar and then tell us something interesting and bar us from taking snaps!

But MacDonald clicked through the images so fast, it was hard to tell what Bing would be up to. Essentially, it looks like a more blocky, image-heavy design, with more differing fonts and contextual info.

10:40 am PT: A smart search geek Harry Shum was then on with a lecture about search intent and all kinds of insider tweakery that made me confused, since I do not understand terms such as “page-level dialog.” There is also apparently “session-level dialog.”

Harry knows what it all means, which is pretty much all that counts.

My take: It has to do with some sort of digital conversation Bing search dudes are having with the users that users have no idea is actually going on.

Simply put: They’re watching you.

11 am PT: Next search guy talked about search intent and such.

That means adding features such as a link to search history or instant weather on the opening page. It’s the little touches that count.

In fact, they do, as Bing tries to differentiate itself from what Google offers, via a series of neat tricks and clever design.

That includes, for example, easy access to lyrics and song classifiers, when searching in music.

Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” was used as an example, since Lady Gaga seems to be the go-to gal on seeming cool these days.

(But is it time to check Bing search trends to see if she is peaked?)

11:19 am: Next, top Online Services Division exec Erik Jorgensen came on to discuss mobile and mapping. He compared himself with “Edward Scissorhands” when talking about how hard it is to have a good experience on a small device.

“Type less, do more,” is the internal mantra at Bing, he said. Coincidentally, my mantra is type more, do less.

Jorgensen showed off Bing mobile stats: 23 million users, 160 percent growth and four million downloads of its iPhone app. Yes, it has come to this–Microsoft using Apple (AAPL) to tout its success.

Then it was onto mapping, which is a pretty good arena for Bing. Stats: 41 percent growth in U.S. unique users, 43 percent rise in searches using enhanced maps, a huge boost in map apps.

11:29 am: Bing Maps guru Blaise Aguera y Arcas–who has the single most sexy name in all of geekdom–said the focus is now on social location.

As in Foursquare!

In fact, he showed off a map in which Foursquare check-ins pour in and pop up in a bit of a freaky way, as in: You can stalk in real-time.

Then it was onto cool mapping eye-candy, which I always fall for since the whole zoom-in-zoom-out thing is mesmerizing. Aguera y Arcas showed off clickable geographic names and embedded maps within maps from, in this case, a zoo or a museum.

11:50 am: Q&A Time!

The first question is about gaming. It’s hot said Nadella, and Bing wants to provide discovery and search more than games themselves.

I asked a question about the status of the Yahoo (YHOO) search partnership deal, which is in process. It is a very complex process, in fact.

And, though they were supposed to be in tandem, Nadella said that algorithm would move faster than advertising technology handover.

“If there were a drop of of advertisers [due to the new deal], that would be problematic,” he said.

Yes, which segued into the next obvious topic: When would Bing make some dough?

Thus. I asked about the high costs of competing in the search space, which Nadella said would continue, including distribution deals and in the aggressive marketing of Bing.

“For sure, we had to ante up,” he said. “But the product has to be able to stand on its own…ultimately, the product has to carry the day.”

More questions about distribution, social search, churn, product differentiation and whether Bing is growing from a more passive user to building a “fan base.”

BoomTown brainstorm: If they handed out delicious donuts with each search, I’d leave Google in a New York minute.

But, like a skunk at a garden party, I asked another question about when Bing is going to break even.

Nadella was too smart to answer this digital hot potato.

“It’s a big market where money can we made, and we are making progress,” he said, saying I should ask his bosses about specifics.

I shall!

In this vein, someone then asked a question about whether Bing would ever become a verb as Google has become.

Shum joked that in the future six letters would be too many for people to say, so things were looking up for four-letter search brands!

More questions included whether Google was tweaked by Bing yet (yep!), and whether Bing should try to win in an international market to show some muscle (U.S. is still top focus).

Finally, it was “time to deploy the cream puffs,” said a Microsoft PR honcho.

Long past time, I’d say.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work