Binging in the Holidays (With Donuts!)
Microsoft is having a little Bing gathering in San Francisco. I’m told there will be some mobile stuff, plus I’m still having withdrawal symptoms after seven years on the Redmond beat, so I’ll be providing live coverage starting at about 10 am PT.
We’ll also see what they have to say about the Yahoo search partnership and its efforts to catch up with Google (and trip them up with antitrust headaches).
Okay. I’m onsite and nearly caffeinated. Yes, there are donuts, but Mobilized is going for the savory option.
10:03 am: Still waiting for things to get started here.
10:04 am: Microsoft search engineering head Satya Nadella comes out. “Okay, let’s get this thing underway.”
10:06 am: First up, some momentum stuff. Share is at 11.8 percent per comScore numbers released yesterday, up another 0.2 percent from October. Overall up 48 percent since launch. “We’re very, very happy with that growth.” Now over 90 million users, but the big deal, he says, is more heavy searchers. “We never had the fans of Bing and the heavy users,” Nadella says.
10:08 am: Nadella says Bing is still getting a larger percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds than its share of searchers as a whole.
10:09 am: “These are footholds that we have in the marketplace,” Nadella says.
10:11 am: Continued focus on specialized verticals (like travel, music, health, image search etc). Overall, such searches account for five percent of all queries, but specialized search makes up of 10 percent of Bing’s searches.
10:12 am: Partnerships: Yahoo is obviously the big one, but Nadella shows slide with Facebook, Twitter, Verizon., BlackBerry, Apple, Android, Foursquare and other logos.
There ave been 5.5 million downloads of the iPhone app.
Nadella says the toolbar deals are also important: They just give us a shot at acquiring the users. They have another one coming with Conduit. Also, they are now at least an option on iPhone and Firefox.
10:16 am: Nadella says the engineering team is focused on three areas, beyond the “arms race” of overall search quality–increasing the visual organization, task-centered nature and social elements of search.
“We’re neck and neck in terms of search quality and we are able to maintain it,” Nadella says.
10:18 am: Lots of talk about the ins and outs of search tech. Nadella says Microsoft has moved from a “neural net” approach to “boosted decision trees.” (No idea what that means.)
10:22 am: Effort to make search more social is important, but just beginning. “This is a journey we are at the very beginnings of,” Nadella says, but says social will change search in terms of how results are discovered, formulated and answered.
10:24 am: Nadella is talking about the importance of visual highlighting to call out various results as well as boosting interactivity, such as including forms within results so users can take action.
Still waiting for any new stuff, but we’re told it’s coming.
Nadella says the company has broken down a list of the tasks people are trying to do when they are trying to do more than just navigate to a particular site.
“We have a pretty granular understanding just looking at the query stream of what people are trying to get done.”
Microsoft has broken it down to some 150 categories, but here are some of the top ones: 4.6 percent of searches are music related, 1.8 percent clothing and shoes, 1.6 percent consumer electronics, 1.1 recipes, 1.3 percent home furnishings.
10:29 am: On to some new stuff.
New image search launching today, but first Microsoft is talking about visual search for things like finding movies and giving direct answers for some new types of queries.
10:31 am: Microsoft is talking about any sort of non-search result as “answers.”
In one case, an “answer” for the query “let’s make a deal” would be video episodes of the game show.
But Microsoft says that automatically putting it at the top is not necessarily best. What the company says it should do instead is put it below the first two results, such as the show’s homepage, which get more clicks than the video.
10:35 am: Also when a user searches flights from Denver to Las Vegas in June, Microsoft pre-populates the fields in a flight search with a guess at the dates, in this case the first weekend in June.
10:38 am: New image search represents first major changes in a year. Biggest shift is white space is gone with just a ton of tiles of images, with some categories at the top.
For example, search “Casablanca” and you get an option for the city in Morocco, another for the movie, a third for the style of wedding dress and another for the Casablanca Lily flower.
10:40 am: On to shopping. Quadrupled the number of products in its database.
10:43 am: Bing is adding a new focus on places as “destinations” with all the potential content from booking a flight or hotel to maps and attractions.
Which is nice, because I’m ready to go on a vacation right about now.
They use weather data to show times to go to and times to avoid a particular place.
10:45 am: Microsoft is beefing up event listings with partnership from FanSnap and other partners. You get ticket info, diagram of stadium, etc.
10:50 am: Back to social. Nadella says search can change by using one’s social graph to influence search results.
First example, you will start to see when your Facebook friends “Like” a page that is in search results.
For now, such results will only come up fairly infrequently, but Nadella says it will be a big deal when you do see pages that your friends have liked.
Search allows the data your friends share on Facebook to come to you when you actually want the information.
“In a way you are taking your friends with you,” says Microsoft’s Paul Yiu.
An example is when you are shopping for a product or going to visit a place–that’s a time when you really want to know what your friends think.
(Seems pretty cool, but wondering just how infrequently this will show up.)
10:57 am: Another example Yiu gives is a search one might do at 3 am for what will make your baby stop crying. There are lots of results, but one that your friend likes might be worth trying first.
11:00 am: Bing is also using one’s Facebook social circle to rank results in people search–i.e., if you have a friend in common, it will rank that “John Doe” higher than one you don’t know.
11:01 am: Nadella is back to talk about local and maps and how that integrates with mobile. Behind him Blaise Aguera y Arcas is pulling out several phones to do a demo. (And they look like iPhones.)
11:03 am: Aguera y Arcas takes the stage to show some changes coming to maps, first on the desktop. He notes the recent shift away from putting its most powerful map features on a Silverlight-powered site. Now it is moving that all to an HTML5-based site that needs no plug-ins.
11:07 am: Bing is bringing the “tasks” concept to searches within maps. A search for a restaurant now brings up not just a map, but more info on the eatery and also the ability to make reservations via OpenTable.
11:09 am: Aguera y Arcas switches to the iPhone. Shows how people can add their own panoramas to maps using a cellphone.
11:13 am: iPhone demo over 3G is going really slow. Aguera y Arcas asks how many of the reporters in the room are using 3G.
11:15 am: Although its going painfully slow, looks like Bing app starts to recognize a restaurant search and pops up options like types of cuisine and price. The goal is to save keystrokes.
Other options are things like get a map, make a reservation, menus, etc.
Still R-E-A-L-L-Y S-L-O-W.
“This bandwidth situation is really going to suck for what I have to demo next.”
He switches to a first-person StreetSide view, but all we see are dots.
“This is so sad,” Aguera y Arcas says, lamenting that we aren’t able to see all the cool stuff. There does seem to be some new StreetSide view stuff on the iPhone app that could be neat, assuming it runs faster on the street than inside this demo room.
11:23 am: We’ve reached a new low. “Close your eyes and imagine….” Aguera y Arcas says, and then describes what the app would do if we could see it.
11:23 am: And they have switched to Wi-Fi. “This is so exciting,” Aguera y Arcas says. Now he’s going back to StreetSide. “That’s so much nicer.”
As for directions, Bing now has bus directions with schedule info in addition to driving and walking directions. “It’s about time,” he says. “I’ve been waiting for this one myself.”
Another feature reminds you to do something when you reach a certain place, like call someone or check-in to FourSquare or Facebook.
11:29 am: Aguera says we are in Search 2.0–where you do more than just search and get results.
Image search is an example. Shows the coming ability to search for something by using a camera to start a search. Basically you can shoot a picture of a page and use any of the terms there to start searching (It uses character recognition in the background).
Questions and Answers
11:32 am: How big a deal is Google Instant?
“We are absolutely studying Google Instant,” Nadella says. Says they could match it. It’s a question of whether it makes task completion easier. “Is it a value or a distraction?” Doing studies and so far Microsoft’s research says it is mixed at best.
“It’s not a game changer. It’s a nice feature at best.”
He hedges a bit on whether it is something Microsoft needs to match.
11:39 am: Mobile features were demoed on iPhone. So when will they come to Windows Phone 7 and other platforms?
Nadella says they now have software for most major phone operating systems, including Android.
“The different devices have different schedules,” he says.
11:42 am: And we’re out of here….Thanks for tuning in.