Today saw Microsoft’s search engine Bing finally lose the Beta tag for its Australian operation. We spoke with Stefan Weiz, Senior Director Bing Search while he was in Melbourne for the announcement.
For the first time since it launched in 2009, Microsoft is no longer thinking of Bing as a mere beta service. According to Neilsen NetRatings Bing has a query share of around 7% locally, with three million Australians using Bing each month. Stefan Weiz, Senior Director Bing Search, talked us through what the full launch means and what's next for the little search engine who could.
PC&TA: When you say Bing is out of beta, what does this mean for the average user?
Stefan Weiz : It means that there’s no reason to use Google at this point! [Laughs] Before we launched this, we had to be comfortable that our quality metrics met or exceeded the local competition plus we had things that they didn’t do. A big part of this is our visual organisation of the page as well as helping people do things, not just find things on the web. Now when Australians use Bing they can be comfortable that they aren’t missing anything and they’re actually getting more than have been previously from any search engine.
PC&TA: Bing is described as being “task oriented” - designed to help you get things done more quickly, with less queries”. What specifically do they mean, and what concrete evidence of this do they have?
SW: When people use search they’re using is less and less to just find information and more to actually do something. We did some research in the US to see what common tasks people would do via search and, frankly, the challenge was that previously search engines weren’t very smart about helping you do stuff. With Bing Australia now, we’re focused on giving you an answer that takes into account multiple sources of data to make a more effective decision. From a task perspective, you might want to see a film, so we’ll deliver the film, the ratings, the reviews and the showing times around you. We want to know what is it you’re trying to do and how we can help you do it.
PC&TA: Thanks to Australian start-up Lexxe, semantic search has become a bit of a buzz term of late – does it relate back to this “task orientation”.
SW: Very much so. Semantic search is something people have people working on the for a while, but what it is essentially is the capacity for machines to understand the world as collection of things that are related and how the work in the real world. Bing uses a lot of semantics se we can understand and what we call “disambiguate” queries. They help us understand the intent of the queries more effectively.
PC&TA: How does Bing fold in with Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system offerings?
SW: Right now under Mango, Bing powers a tonne of services - it powers the visual search and the music search back end and much more. Essentially we want to move away from “go search” which is the model we’ve all come to expect and move instead to a ubiquitous search that’s on your phone, your laptop, your Xbox - even on your iPad and your iPhone. We want to push Bing out to everywhere people are rather than just expecting them to come to us - although we do have a very beautiful homepage [Laughs].
PC&TA: In a world where “Google” is as much a verb as a noun, what are the challenges in building a new search engine?
SW: This has been tough – people don’t wake up and say to themselves “what I really want is a new search engine”. So apart from marketing to let people know that there is a new player, we’ve concentrated on providing experiences that Google just doesn’t offer. We want people to use Bing and say “so that’s what search can do”. I call it expanding the art of possible on search. We want people to use Bing for things they didn’t think they could do with search, and something they can’t do back at Google. And it seems to be working: we’ve doubled our market share in US in the past two years and we’re the only engine to do that - everyone else has lost out to Google but we’ve made gains. So, yes it’s tough, but that’s why I have this job.
You can follow Stefan via Twitter: @stefanweitz