Bing Redesigns to Split Out Details and Social Into Their Own Panes
Microsoft today is changing up its Bing search interface to separate out a lot of the information it had previously packed directly into the core list of search results.
The new Bing features a three-panel layout, with the left-most a pared-down list of straight search results. The second column appears when users hover over a certain result, and shows dedicated visual results for 150 different categories like restaurants, transit, movies and hotels that include maps, ratings and other information.
This “Snapshot” screen tries to help users take action on those results — for instance, to make a restaurant reservation or check availability at a certain hotel — without leaving the Bing page.
The third column is the most radical change from the traditional search layout — it’s a social friend list and feed that stays on the page at all times over to the right. For each query, Bing will automatically suggest Facebook friends who know about a topic as well as relevant experts from Twitter, Foursquare, Quora, LinkedIn, Google+ and Blogger.
When a user asks one of those people to help with a query, the conversation shows up in an activity feed on the sidebar and also back on Facebook.
Microsoft had considered giving users the option to broadcast — with their permission — all their Bing search queries to Facebook through its Open Graph API. That would have been super controversial, and it was dropped from the release over the last couple of weeks.
Bing search director Stefan Weitz told me that there are a couple of goals for this launch. The first is to show users that “Bing is for doing stuff.” And the second is to acknowledge that search has become too crowded, with additions like social seeming to randomly sprinkle Facebook profile photos throughout the results page.
The new interface’s three panels are, in order, “what the Web knows,” “what Bing knows,” and “what friends know,” Weitz said.
One thing that’s not clear to me is how a three-panel design that’s dependent on hovering will work within the constraints of small mobile touchscreens. Microsoft is demoing that and more at a San Francisco launch event that’s being live-streamed here.
Update: Qi Lu, Microsoft’s president of online services, replied at the event that the three-panel approach should actually ease translations to various form factors, including phones and Xboxes.
“Separating aspects allows us to customize for different form factors, so the experience can be consistent,” he said. Lu added that hovering would be replaced by swiping between panes on mobile devices.
The new Bing won’t be available to all users immediately, but people can sign up to be notified about it here.