Microsoft is upping the ante in its search war with Google, adding new features and an updated look for its Bing search service.
The changes include a revised layout for the homepage, a new logo, an enhancement of existing functions and two new features, as well as a general positioning of the search engine as a developer platform that can be integrated into applications.
The updates parallel many of Google’s functions, and, for these two tech giants, there’s now a full-scale competition that goes far beyond search engines and enters the realm of intelligent agents sifting through all available knowledge.
Moving Beyond the Search Box
On the official Bing Search Blog, Bing User Experience Program Manager Lawrence Ripsher wrote this week that "search is more than simply finding information, it's about taking action and gaining knowledge." He noted that search is no longer "simply a box the people type into," but includes searching a map using your fingers, asking questions verbally, figuring out what's happening through social networks, and even using the camera in a smart phone for help in physically navigating a strange location.
The new design is focused on simplicity, speed and visual appeal, the company said. Typography has been standardized around the Segoe font, because of its “connection to the Microsoft identity” as well as for readability and clarity, and the color palette is centered primarily around orange, yellow and other warm colors.
The new logo references a prism of light, and the company said the mark “evokes a sense of movement, direction and energy” while covering a brand that now includes search technology across a variety of products.
Semantic Knowledge in Action
One of Bing’s functional enhancements is the combination of two features introduced last year – Snapshot's knowledge engine about people, places and things, and Sidebar's tracking of what your social network friends know.
To explain this combination, Microsoft gives the example of a search for “Highway 1.” Bing, the company said, shows the factual data that it knows about this famous U.S. route, including length, date and related places, as well as related human knowledge, including status updates, photos, tweets, check-in’s or expert opinions.
Another new function is called Page Zero, which is designed to help users get answers or take action before search results are shown. Example: a search for “Katy Perry.” Bing knows who she is, presents some basic info, and suggests other possible search avenues. If there are two similarly named people or things, Bing provides what Microsoft calls “intelligent disambiguation,” where you get a choice between, say, Jon Stewart the host or Jon Stewart the show.
Additionally, Page Zero will show the most common actions for some kinds of searches, such as Check In or Flight Status links when a user searches for United Airlines.
There’s also a new area at the top of the page called Pole Position, showing results that Bing is pretty sure what the searcher is looking for. Examples include images of a celebrity or a detailed view of weather in a given city, presented as a larger result at page top. Microsoft said that Pole Position builds on what it learned over the last year of implementing Snapshot.