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Bing - Are Images the Future of Search?

David Silversmith
David Silversmith

The classic saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, but Microsoft Bing is betting on a picture being worth a thousand keywords.  Bing is testing a visual search which returns results as an interactive gallery of images.  Bing is growing - will this be one of the features that help Bing catch up with Google?

Since rolling out Bing in June, Microsoft has been slowly rolling out new features as they attempt to catch up with Google.  As with many of the new Bing features, the US market is the test market.  Once again, the rest of the world has to go to the upper right of the Bing search page, click on the country displayed and, on the next menu, select the United States.  Then you can click on visual search and see the latest in visual search technology.

For instance, if you type in “dog breeds,” the Bing search engine organizes the dog breeds for you in a grid of images that you can scroll through using a slider on the right. When you hover over a particular image, it enters the name of that dog breed in the search box. And you can re-order the image results by size, breed, exercise needs, and even Bing popularity.

Dogs are the example used in most of the Microsoft demonstrations, but there are more than 100 visual galleries ranging from digital cameras, movies in theaters, new cars, NFL players, popular books, popular TV shows to top songs. The sorting categories change to match the category. So, for example is you select movies, then you can filter by release date, title, or rating. When you select cars you can then sort visually by make, price or mileage.  “The whole concept,” according to a Microsoft spokesperson “is that the world of search will change. There will be a more graphic way people will search, and it will pivot how people search.” The challenge will be to scale this to more then 100 categories as these 100 categories barely touch on the search potential of the world - a good number of the topics are just US specific. 

Another disappointing part of this visual search is the amount of space provided to Bing Cashback buttons on the top search results. In some cases, the top half of the screen is taken up by sponsored results. While these sorts of results help generate revenues (at least in the US where Cashback works), a large quantity of screen real estate dedicated to sales is likely to make many users angry.

This is very interesting stuff. Microsoft is doing new things and definitely raising competition in the search game. It seems worth wondering if Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz didn't choke on her coffee when she saw how hard Microsoft is going after her bacon. The two are now search partners with Bing powering Yahoo search results but Yahoo shopping has been a keystone for the company.

Microsoft is going to have to stop thinking US-centric if they really want Bing to succeed.  The US marketplace is not even the largest in the world - but it's where Microsoft is focusing all their research.  But, those limitations aside, it is great to see Microsoft doing new things and increasing the level of competition in the search game.

The galleries are quite remarkable and include 30 photo collections for things like digital cameras, dog breeds, movies in theaters, new cars, NFL players, popular books, popular TV shows, and top songs. The galleries pack insightful information in convenient ways, so the NFL gallery alone grants you instant access to pictures of players that you can filter for most popular on Bing, highest paid, passing leaders, rushing leaders, receiving leaders, sack leaders, pro bowlers, position, team, salary, and school.

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