– Is It Worth Switching From Google?

Microsoft publicly unveiled its new search engine about a month ago and lately, I’ve seen quite a number of television ads for this application. On the surface, Bing has a unique look. The home page features a rotation of stunning photography, for instance, which can be clicked on to produce related image search results. But the most significant changes are under the hood. “We have taken the algorithmic programming up an order of magnitude,” says Microsoft senior vice president Yusuf Mehdi. Each search result page is customized according to what type of search you do (health, travel, shopping, news, sports). The algorithms determine not only the order of results on the page, but the layout of the page itself, concluding what sections appear. These sections can include anything from guided refinements and a list of related searches in the left-hand pane to images, videos, and local results.

I’ve been playing around with Bing for a couple of weeks now and like how it works. It’s designed to be “more of a decision engine,” says Microsoft. Bing helps people make decisions through guided search and a focus on task completion. In a time when a new Website is created every 4.5 seconds, information overload is becoming a real problem. People are getting hundreds, sometimes thousands of search links but not getting what they actually want.

Bing tries to alleviate the problem by offering up different experiences depending on the search. It also acts more like a destination site for certain searches. Travel and product searches bring in comparison pricing, reviews, images, and more. Hulu videos (one of my favorite time wasters) can be played within the video search results. Bing pulls in data from other Web services when it can so that you often don’t have to leave to get the information you want.

Bing’s homepage surrounds the search box with a single image. You can hover over parts of the image to get factoids about the image or click through to an image search result page to explore even more. The left-hand pane offers the option to narrow your search on images, videos, shopping, news, maps, or travel. Each of these has a different look and feel. A travel search will turn up a page based on Microsoft’s Farecast technology asking you where you want to go, with flights, hotels, and destination information. A news search offers up headlines, photos, videos, and local news in a column on the right. A shopping search will bring up products and is tied into Microsoft’s Cashback program.

Every search also generates a guide on the left to help you refine your search. A search for “kinkajou,” for example, lets you refine by images, facts, sale, breeders, care, diseases, and videos. A search for “Samsung LCD TVs” brings up an entirely different set of guided results: shopping, review, manual, repair, buy, stand, images, and videos. If you search for images of “butterflies,” it lets you sift to show just Monarch, Swallowtail, Viceroy, Owl, and other types of butterflies. All of this categorization and concept-matching is Microsoft’s early attempt to bring in some basic semantic search technologies into a mainstream search engine. Each guided option is dynamically generated, just like the different sections of the search results page.

Google, tried to offset this with a new search refinement option, which is also in the left hand pane. The Google options, which include the ability to search across different time periods or for related keywords, are completely static and it’s a very minor revision – not as sophisticated as what BING is doing.

Bing also takes advantage of Microsoft’s acquisition of Powerset to provide better previews and snippets of text when you hover over a result. Also, whenever a search brings up a “reference” tab in the guided exploration pane, clicking on that will bring up an enhanced Wikipedia article with semantic tags.

Onstage at a recent conference, Steve Ballmer stated: “There is no way to change the whole game in one step.” But search “deserves a good feature war.” And Bing will be rolling out new features as it goes forward.

But is it enough to get people to switch? Bing is certainly not a game-changer, but it does cut out a lot of the back and forth that happens with so many searches today. If Bing can help people find what they are looking for faster, it will put pressure on Google to keep advancing the ball as well.

I’ve used Google as my primary search engine for as long as I can remember – never liking ANY of the options Microsoft offered. Maybe things “they are a changing”. For now, I’ll just switch back and forth to keep tabs on who is doing what. Let’s see where the “search” wars are next year at this time.

Check out the Video intro all about Bing

Or just give BING a chance –

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