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The Bing overhaul outlined: Less clutter, better integration, and segmented social

New Bing on its wayThis morning, Bing outlined a big overhaul to its search system as part of its transition from “finding to doing.” Most of the changes apply to added features that Bing has introduced to search, such as a new sidebar, a snapshot of related information, and (according to Bing) better results. Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy changes to Bing.

Sidebar

The Sidebar feature is arguably Bing’s most attention-getting new feature. The search engine has leveraged its Facebook partnership for all it’s worth, touting itself as the best way to do social search thanks to the integration with the world’s largest social network. Despite all of Bing’s investment in the effort, users have regarded it fairly half-heartedly.

New Bing SidebarNow, Bing is segmenting social with the Sidebar, where you’ll find a variety of Facebook-oriented elements. When you search for something, the Sidebar will be populated with “Friends who might know,” “People who know,” “Ask friends,” and “Activity feed” (which is just a collection of all your social Bing-related activity). As you can imagine, these categories are determined based on Facebook connections, mentions, or activity surrounding whatever it is you’ve searched for. If the surfaced contacts aren’t to your liking, the “Ask friends” feature lets you mass-ask your friends your inquiries as well.

People who knowThe “People who know” feature jumps outside the Facebook box, thankfully (nothing like being a one-party social integration system, eh Google?). Here, Bing will loop in content from Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Blogger, Foursquare, and (gasp!) Google+. Props to Bing for being equal opportunity with social services it’s tying in. While search and social have struggled to get alone and find the right way to combine their respective powers, if you’re going to attempt to integrate them, you’ve got to really do it, and Bing’s approach is nothing if it isn’t thorough. 

According to Cnet, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was inspiration for Bing’s approach here. Vice President of search program management with Bing explains: “Zuck said, ‘Don’t try to do social by building social on the side. Build it into the experience.” Words he repeated at f8 often: Do what you do best, and then rope in outside applications that do what they do best to create a better service. 

Snapshot

Bing’s trying to live up to its “Bing is for doing” motto here. Snapshot surfaces relevant information for your searches, like reviews, directions, contact information, etc. Here’s an example:

Bing Snapshot featureYou can see that OpenTable reviews to a specific restaurant as well as a link to make a reservation pop up alongside a search for “Seattle Restaurants.” I’d assume the reason this particular restaurant was grabbed was for its high rating. Right now using Google, you’ll get a map with pinpointed locations and some rankings and contact info, but there’s no OpenTable or Yelp integration – it’s all Google Reviews.

Seeing a reoccurring theme here? Bing is all about opening its platform up to willing parties and tying useful applications into its search results. Google, on the other hand, has been tightening the lid at an increasing rate. More on that later.

User experience upgrade

Bing has been gaining popularity, that much is for sure. The search engine recently eclipsed Yahoo. But Google reigns supreme in search. Still, according to the Bing blog, it’s starting to edge in a little on its rival.

“To track our progress, we conducted tests that removed any trace of Google and Bing branding. When we did this study back in January of last year 34% of people preferred Bing, while 38% preferred Google. The same unbranded study now shows that Bing Search results now have a much wider lead over Google’s. When shown unbranded search results 43% prefer Bing results while only 28% prefer Google’s results.”

The latest version of Bing should be faster, more relevant, and less cluttered. The improvements to social integration might even make it useful instead of obnoxiously taking up space.

It should go without saying that this information, coming from Bing, should be taken with many grains of salt. That being said, you have to have to hand it to the search engine for fighting the good fight and continue to innovate this platform. It’s iterating fast, considering that it only launched in 2009. Bing’s social approach has largely been more well-received than Google’s, for good reason – I’m sorry, but you simply cannot only loop in Google+ and not expect a collect “whaaaaat?” from the Internet.

Still, Google has its massive reach in its corner, and Bing still has to get people to try its service. It seems crazy, but one of the largest hurdles for the service will be breaking our Google search reflexes. But the new Bing seems worth a try, and if it can really tighten up its social reach and relevant side info, it might even grab a few Google defectors. Interested? Sign up for early access now

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