MICROSOFT NEW PLANS FOR MOBILE TECH  / BING, GOOGLE  IN  TWITTER SEARCH

CYBERSPACE, OCTOBER 22, 2009
(COMPUTERWORLD NEWS) Possibly the most noteworthy thing to come out of Microsoft product planning director Stefan Weitz's keynote at the Web 2.0 Summit this morning was what he didn't talk about.

While conference officials had been touting Microsoft's plan to preview Bing for Mobile during the presentation, Weitz opened his speech by disclosing that he wouldn't be talking about the upcoming iteration of the Bing search engine for mobile devices. And for the most part, he kept his word.

Only at the end of the presentation did Weitz turn to mobile technologies and about a future when a video camera inside a mobile phone could be used to scan stores, buildings or famous places and get pertinent information. For instance, he said that one could one day wave a mobile phone in front of Pete's Coffee shop and immediately get a rating for the coffee. Then the user can use the device to compare that rating to one for the coffee sold in his hotel.

"Mobile has tremendous legs and it's very exciting," he said.

Starting off his presentation, though, Weitz talked about issues surrounding the building of a new search engine, or decision engine as Microsoft likes to call Bing, in a market dominated by rival and search behemoth Google.

"There's a competitor in place. They're pretty good. They have good share. When you're the number three player, how do you break through?" said Weitz. "When a competitor has a lot of mind share ... people don't necessarily think they need another [search engine], how are we going to get any traction?"

Microsoft unveiled its Bing search tool in June in the hopes of giving Google some competition. And Bing, which replaced the unpopular Microsoft Live Search engine, has already shown some strength, grabbing enough market share to to sit in third place behind Yahoo in second. Google owns more than 60% of the market, according to multiple researchers.

Analysts generally say that while Bing isn't keeping Google executives up at night, it is giving them something to think about.

Despite facing the daunting and expensive challenge of going up against Google, Weitz told attendees that Microsoft was drawn to the business by a constantly steady increase in Internet searches. Between February 2008 and February 2009 the search business grew by 8%, according to Weitz. He said the rate of growth is impressive considering that search is second only to e-mail in online activity.

Weitz said that Microsoft engineers focused on the results of a survey he said found that only 65% of people said are satisfied with the results of their searches. "What is causing a third of people to be really unsatisfied with search today?" he asked. Weitz didn't identify who undertook the survey or how many people were polled.

"The actual success rate for people doing these queries is actually quite low," said Weitz. "When you stop and think through the things that you do that aren't answered by a single result, there is a lot of ping pong of search. People do a search, get to the results page, click on a link, realize it's not the link they wanted and then go back. Twenty-five percent of clicks lead to a 'back' click."

Weitz said in moving ahead, the Bing team is focusing on augmenting results with more information and more visual results. Just last month, Microsoft gave Bing a beta version of Visual Search, which is designed to let users search through galleries of images.

"There's a lot of headroom in search," he added. "When we know you're looking for an artist or a city, how can we augment that information that we can crawl across the web? How can we give you better answers?"

COMMENT FROM REUTERS:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp and Google Inc secured separate agreements to access real-time content from Web phenomenon Twitter, intensifying their battle for a search market that Google dominates.

Google, and Microsoft's 5-month-old Bing, each announced deals to access Twitter's store of public data in real time on Wednesday, in the latest sign of escalating competition between the two search engines.

The long-expected deals are expected to ramp up the efficacy and lure of search results, by allowing users to scan real-time Tweets: 140-character stream-of-consciousness messages that Twitter hosts on its popular website.

The back-to-back announcements underscored how real-time data in search results is shaping up to be a pivotal battleground in the search arena.

Microsoft unveiled its deal with Twitter and provided an on-stage demonstration of the newly-launched product at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco Wednesday morning.

Hours later, Google announced on its company blog its own agreement, promising that Twitter messages, or Tweets, would be incorporated into search results "in the coming months."

Both companies would not disclose financial terms. Microsoft also announced a deal to include content from social network Facebook on Wednesday.

Asked about the timing of twin announcements, Google Vice President of Search Products Marissa Mayer told Reuters deals between fast-growing companies like Google and Twitter take a long time to come together.

"This is not something that happens on the scale of hours, it's something that happens on the scale of months," she said. Google's addition of Twitter data will fill a "critical gap."

"Whenever there's new data that's emerging, and growing as fast as we're seeing with Twitter, it's really about making sure that we have the content so we can search for it and find it for our users."

Twitter, the 3-year-old Web start-up that has become an Internet sensation popularized by celebrities and government, attracts tens of millions of visitors every month.

In September, it received a $100 million round of financing that valued the company at $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Twitter has yet to generate significant revenue from its free service, though it has mentioned advertising and premium features as potential ways to make money.

AN INTERNET PHENOMENON

Qi Lu, president of online services at Microsoft, said data from Twitter could provide "signals" about which content on the Web is most popular and most relevant to search queries.

"You can use those to augment today's search experience," Lu told a San Francisco Internet conference.

From Wednesday, Twitter search results will be accessible on a special section of Bing as a beta, or test product. Microsoft plans to present the most popular Tweets of the moment, while allowing Web surfers to view Twitter messages that contain links to other Web content. Microsoft will filter out spam and other extraneous data.

Microsoft said data from Facebook would be available in Bing at an unspecified later date. The Facebook deal encompasses only messages that its 300 million-plus users have flagged as viewable to the public, a practice that is relatively new and not as widespread on the social network, where users typically send messages to groups of friends.

Facebook Chief Operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said no money changed hands in the deal between Facebook and Microsoft, during a separate presentation at the conference.

"As searchers are looking for more and more real-time Web results, we think this partnership will help Bing to improve its user experience," said JP Morgan analyst Imran Khan in a note to investors.

Microsoft also inked a deal this year to entwine its search efforts with Yahoo's.

Yahoo's chief technology officer, Ari Balogh, told reporters that, generally speaking, any data Microsoft's search engine has access to also would be accessible to Yahoo under the terms of their partnership.

Yahoo has been testing the limited inclusion of Twitter messages within search results to certain users, he added.

"All content on the Web is relevant to search," Balogh said. He thought people would not want to go to three or four sites to access different types of data.

(Writing by Edwin Chan; Editing by Richard Chang and Carol Bishopric)


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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