Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US) unveiled a new design for its Bing Internet search engine to make results more social by listing related functions and content from a user’s friends, without encroaching on regular query results.
The new design, being introduced in the U.S. over the next few days, divides the Web page into three. On the left, the biggest pane displays basic search results. The center column lists tasks associated with the query -- looking for restaurants will bring up maps and reservations pages. The final column shows related content from friends, such as who could help with the search and who “liked” an eatery on Facebook (FB:US) Inc.’s site.
The update is the biggest change since the release of Bing three years ago, when Microsoft completely overhauled its search offerings, the company said in a blog post today. Microsoft accounted for 15.3 percent of U.S. searches in March, according to ComScore Inc., compared with 66.4 percent for market leader Google Inc. (GOOG:US) The changes build on a partnership between Microsoft and Facebook to integrate social data into search results.
Microsoft held an event today in San Francisco to demonstrate the new product. The new design will be available on mobile devices in the coming weeks, the company said.
Bing previously listed social content together with regular search results, though few people used the function, and customers complained it cluttered the results and made them “noisy,” said Stefan Weitz, a director for Bing.
The Redmond, Washington-based company said its basic search results are now preferred to Google by users in a recent blind study it conducted. The study, which shows search results without telling test subjects whether they are from Bing or Google, showed 43 percent preferred Bing, while 28 percent preferred Google. In the same Microsoft study done in January 2011, 34 percent chose Bing to Google’s 38 percent.
The new Bing design’s middle pane, which displays actions related to queries, relies on partnerships with companies like Yelp Inc., OpenTable Inc. (OPEN:US) and ticket-comparison site FanSnap, Microsoft said.
The social sidebar lets searchers pose the query to their Facebook friends, gives a list of friends with expertise in the area of the search and lists people who may be influential on that topic outside of the searcher’s friend list by culling data from sites like Twitter Inc., Foursquare Labs Inc., LinkedIn Corp. and Google’s Google+ social network.
The company is trying to gain users by taking the huge volume of social data created -- articles people read, songs they listen to and places they’ve visited -- and funneling it into search results, said Qi Lu, president of Microsoft’s online services division, in a speech at the event.
“Search, the gateway to the Web, needs to be reinvented to unlock that vast potential,” he said. “We aspire to lead innovation that will reinvent search for the future.”
The pane also has an activity feed that shows questions your friends have asked and posts they have chosen to share. Users can answer the questions or “like” the post and the activity will show up in both Bing and Facebook, the world’s largest social-networking service.
Google in January announced a service called Search, Plus Your World, which displays items such as photos, news and comments users put on Google+ or from friends’ posts. Google doesn’t have the same types of deals with Facebook and Twitter that Microsoft does.
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