A couple of days ago I blogged that I was going to attend a Microsoft bing round table. I've now attended and here are the key points and interesting facts that I took from the event. You can also search for #meetbing on twitter for relevant tweets.
And Microsoft openly admitted this. Basically Live Search wasn't getting any traction so Microsoft had to do something (see my next point).
"Microsoft believe they will provide as relevant search results as Google in the UK in a number of months #meetbing" @leggetter
What they've done is go with a "web 2.0 name" of "Bing" to try and jazz things up a little. They've also gone back to basics and want to concentrate on the quality and relevance of search results and believe they will provide as relevant results as Google in a few months and are judging the quality of their results on something called NDCG. I certainly didn't use Live Search because I found the results pretty useless. Bing definitely returns better results than Live did. An example on this focus on quality is that Bing has only presently indexed around 10 Billion pages which in the scheme of things isn't very much.
"Only 1 in 4 searches deliver a successful result. Data from MSN search, tool bar in IE. Could be searching Google, yahoo etc." @karenblakeman
Microsoft also believe they've improved the UX a bit to allow users to refine their search results with the introduction of the quick tabs/suggested links in a menu on the left hand side of the user interface. They've done this because they believe that only 1 in 4 searches deliver a successful result so this allows users to more easily find things faster.
Microsoft seem to think the re-branding and basic search tweaks have worked as they showed us data that they believe proves Bing has overtaken Yahoo! as No.2 in the search market. Their source of data to determine where users were going to perform their web search was quite interesting. Their source was the MSN toolbar which is only available to those with Internet Explorer. I guess since IE still has a large share of the market (W3Schools Stats | Wikipedia Stats) that the figures are more or less correct but some people at the event did question this as a suitable source.
The other thing that Microsoft are doing is to integrate Bing as a "search brand" into all their products in the same way that Google integrate Google search into Gmail, Google Docs etc. So, you will now see "Bing" used to power Hotmail search and most probably all other Microsoft sites or web applications over time.
"Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo to become No.2 in search. Fact admitted here" @leggetter
This may not be a big surprise to some people but I didn't know that this was Microsoft's main motivation to buy Yahoo! and I did read a few articles about the attempted purchase. Microsoft admitted that Yahoo! had the No.2 slot and if they bought them they would gain this position in addition to a well-known brand. They also admitted that they may have kept the Yahoo! brand for their search and ditched Live altogether.
Bing UK is lacking a lot of the functionality of Bing US since it's still in beta. Microsoft wanted to launch Bing and felt it was better to do it world wide so stuck with the beta. Bing UK will move out of Beta when more of the functionality you can see in the US is available in the UK.
Local, travel, maps, videos, shopping and news will be the verticals that Microsoft initially target. This is a little disappointing as it would be great to see Microsoft break the mould and do something innovative. The only unique vertical that was mentioned is that a music search function is being worked on by the Bing China team.
All in all I thought it was a worthwhile exercise by Microsoft to tell people what they are doing and gather a number of opinions. The consensus of the people at the event is that Bing is going to have to something different to take a significant portion of people away from Google and their current offering doesn't offer too much to do this.
I'm simply happy that Microsoft have upped their game and will at least have Google looking over their shoulders albiet way back into the distance. Hopefully this competition will provoke innovation in search that has been generally stagnent for the past few years up until the introduction of the real-time web. Maybe this could be something that Microsoft could excel at?