Today Microsoft unveiled its latest attempt at arresting its decline in Internet search with an enhanced Live Search rebranded as Bing:
Microsoft Corp. today unveiled Bing, a new Decision Engine and consumer brand, providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions. Bing is specifically designed to build on the benefits of today’s search engines but begins to move beyond this experience with a new approach to user experience and intuitive tools to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.
The result of this new approach is an important beginning for a new and more powerful kind of search service, which Microsoft is calling a Decision Engine, designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions. The new service, located at http://www.Bing.com, will begin to roll out over the coming days and will be fully deployed worldwide on Wednesday, June 3.
The "decision engine" approach seems to be an an attempt to sidestep the Internet search titans of Google and Yahoo by claiming to provide a different service and experience. Don’t expect general decision making assistance however:
Microsoft’s research identified shopping, travel, local business and information, and health-related research as areas in which people wanted more assistance in making key decisions. The current state of Internet search isn’t optimized for these tasks, but the Bing Decision Engine is optimized for these key customer scenarios.
The areas identified are also ones where a lot of ads can be sold too, of course, and Microsoft can also rope in some of their other properties:
Microsoft’s mapping platform, Virtual Earth, will now be branded as Bing Maps for Enterprise. More information can be found here.
Technology from Microsoft’s April 2008 acquisition of Farecast is now a central part of Bing Travel. More information coming soon.
Microsoft’s popular cashback program, now dubbed Bing cashback, with more than 850 merchants and more than 17 million products available, will be fully integrated into the Bing Shopping experience.
While all this lucrative decision making assistance is swell, what will elevate Bing above a mere shopping site will be the way it handles day to day search queries for average Internet users. There have apparently been improvements in that regard under the covers and more visibly there is a search results "table of contents" on a sidebar to help refine queries as well as improved text previews of results via technology from acquisition Powerset. As a sample of one, Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling says:
My overall assessment is very positive. Kumo, now Bing, has performed well and I’ve been satisfied with the results. There haven’t been any significant deficiencies or missing links (so to speak). While there have been a few occasions where I’ve found Google results to be better, the substantial gap that existed between Google and Live Search is largely gone with Bing.
Still, success will determined by the number of Internet users habitually going to Bing for Internet search. Microsoft apparently plans to spend $80 to $100 million for promotional advertising in order to bring in crowds to kick the tires at least once and then they get to vote with their mice every day.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave his maiden Consumer Electronic Show keynote yesterday and if it was just as soporific as Bill Gates’ past performances, it mercifully skipped the goofy "future tech" skits that Microsoft’s PR folks used to put Gates through. In a nutshell, the message was "Windows 7, Windows 7, Windows 7" plus the obligatory appearance by Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices chief Robbie Bach to once again whistle past the graveyard and say that everything on his patch was swell.
“I’m thrilled to announce the availability of the Windows 7 beta, which is on track to deliver simplicity and reliability,” Ballmer said. “Windows 7 and Windows Live are part of an incredible pipeline of consumer technology that is making it easier than ever for people to communicate, share and get more done.”
The beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft’s next-generation PC operating system, can be downloaded today by MSDN, TechBeta and TechNet customers. Consumers who want to test-drive the beta will be able to download it beginning Jan. 9 at http://www.microsoft.com/windows7.
Microsoft also announced the global availability of Windows Live, a free suite of communications and sharing applications.
Actually that’s not all the ten thousand different Windows Live applications, but just Windows Live Essentials, the bundle of Windows applications you will have to download to give Windows 7 the same functionality as Windows XP. In which respect there was good news for Dell customers:
In February, to offer a comprehensive experience for consumers to connect, share and personalize their content, Dell will offer preloaded Windows Live Essentials (a free suite of applications for instant messaging, e-mail and photos that complement Windows Live on the Web) and Live Search on a majority of its new consumer and small-business PCs globally.
No word on how much money changed hands, but bear in mind that Dell is paying to put Windows on their PCs so with this deal they are merely getting a discount for also preloading Live Essentials and Live Search. I am sure Microsoft’s lawyers are making sure it is a separate accounting entry however.
Also announced was the Verizon mobile search deal leaked yesterday:
Under a new five-year relationship that covers mobile search and advertising, Verizon subscribers in the U.S. will be able to use Live Search to search for local business and shopping information; access maps and directions; perform general Internet searches; and find ring tones, games, wallpaper and other online mobile products and services.
More succinctly, Microsoft’s Live Search will become the preferred Web search on Verizon mobiles.
Yesterday, Microsoft confirmed the departure of Brad Goldberg, Search Business Group General Manager:
Goldberg is leaving to become chief executive of the online business at the Peak6 investment company.
The Redmond company acknowledged Goldberg’s impending departure in response to an inquiry this evening, describing the situation as amicable. Another Microsoft veteran, Mike Nichols, will replace Goldberg as general manager of Live Search product management at the beginning of the year.
This seems to be more of the continuing fallout from the appointment of Yahoo’s Dr. Qi Lu to run Microsoft’s Online Services Group. Earlier, Microsoft had revealed the upcoming departure in March of online ad sales chief Bill Shaughnessy whose organization was folded into Microsoft’s centralized Sales, Marketing and Services Group when Dr. Lu arrived.
Microsoft was touting a deal with personal computer giant Hewlett-Packard for Black Friday shopping this holiday weekend that offered shoppers 40% discounts if they went through Microsoft’s incentive shopping service, Live Search cashback. Unfortunately, Microsoft was not prepared for the load on their servers:
First, Microsoft’s Live Search Cashback site was down for a good part of the day, preventing many online shoppers from taking advantage of the Black Friday cashback promotions from HP and others. Now, some of the people who did get through to the site are reporting that they received a mere 3 percent cashback from their HP purchases, not the promised 40 percent.
The 3% instead of 40% is fixable with a lot of elbow grease from Microsoft and HP employees and yes, Web site overloads from holiday shopping frenzy aren’t uncommon, but this is certainly a PR black eye for Live Search. Even worse,it is extraneous to Live Search’s mission as a Web Search alternative to Google and Yahoo.
From a bean counter perspective, Microsoft likely is subsidizing Live Search cashback so the glitches may have actually saved money, but if the folks at HP wisely put a reimbursement clause in the contract it may get very expensive for Microsoft. As for HP, their online store just missed one of the biggest shopping days of the year so I am sure they are rather grumpy. Next year, I bet the "doorbuster specials" won’t be Live Search cashback exclusive.