Microsoft Revamps Bing with Social Search, Updated UI

Google is the undisputed king of internet search, and Microsoft has historically been a distant (albeit tenacious) competitor. Microsoft hopes to change that situation with some forthcoming updates to the Bing service. In a jointly-authoredpost on the official Bing search blog, Derrick Connell, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President for Bing, and Dr. Harry Shum, Corporate Vice President for Bing R&D, announced some of the new features that Bing users in the United States should be seeing in the next few days. (Also: See Paul Thurrott's take on the Bing update.)

The bulk of the changes revolve around three new columnar interface elements, which -- moving from left to right across the screen -- present core web search results, offer up a snapshot of actions you can take related to those search results, and provide a summary of social media connections and activity, respectively. Microsoft has provided a screenshot of the new interface, and I've taken the liberty of highlighting the three new columns in red, below:

new-bing

Grouping different sets in information in multiple columns is a common UI design theme these days, and one that users of Tweetdeck will immediately recognize. Users of Tweetdeck (example below) may find the approach familiar, and in my opinion that's a good thing. Tweetdeck does an excellent job of grouping lots of information into a confined space, so I think many web users may find Bing's new columnar format just as efficient.

 tweetdeck

Arguably the most significant of these new elements is the social sidebar, which represents Microsoft's most obvious attempt yet at blunting Google's "Google+ everywhere" strategy. I've written in the past about how I think Google+ will succeed, but Google's strategy is an adversarial one: Google+ is being baked into every Google service available, from YouTube to the Android OS, but excludes popular social media services like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Instagram. Microsoft's approach seems more inclusionary, as the social sidebar will represent relevant social networks and information from multiple sources, including Google+.

Shum and Connell describe the Bing team's philosophy behind the social search bar in more detail in their blog post, but I've pulled out the most relevant excerpt here (emphasis mine):

"Getting things done often involves others, in fact 90% of those asked said they prefer to listen to their friends when making decisions. Whether it’s making a purchase, deciding on a vacation destination, choosing a great restaurant, or figuring out which movie to see this weekend, the new Bing focuses on bringing friends, experts and enthusiasts into your search experience through a dedicated social 'sidebar.' With sidebar, Bing brings together the best of the web, with what experts and your friends know, giving you the confidence to act. This new way to search lets people share, discover, and interact with friends like they do in real life."

If you're interested in taking a look at what else the new Bing has in store, check out Microsoft's page on the upcoming Bing changes.

So what do you think of the latest change to Bing? Share your thoughts by adding a comment to this blog post or contributing to the discussion on Twitter.

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