Microsoft knows how to build platforms, so when it announces a new one, it’s worth taking a closer look. Until last week, Microsoft mostly wanted you to think of Bing as a search engine that could compete with Google. At its Build developer conference, however, the company made a surprise announcement: Bing is now also a developer platform. Microsoft is opening up tools like Bing’s Entity API, speech capabilities, optical character recognition, translation and a number of other tools for developers of third-party apps. It’s also bringing its existing Maps API under the Bing Services umbrella.
Microsoft describes these services as “an intelligent fabric” that it uses to build products “to help people interact with the world’s knowledge and their surroundings in a more human way.” Microsoft already uses some of these capabilities internally, but it’s now opening them up to others, as well.
The Entity API is the highlight of the Bing services. If Microsoft plays this smart, it could establish Bing as the go-to platform for developers who need easy access to information about the real world for their apps. While not everything from Bing’s advanced Satori Entity engine — Microsoft’s version of Google’s Knowledge Graph — will soon be available through the Entity API (Microsoft has not announced a launch date for the Entity API yet), the company believes it will allow developers “to build scenarios that augment users’ abilities to discover and interact with their world faster and more easily than they can do today.”
As Microsoft’s Director of Search Stefan Weitz told me during a brief chat after Microsoft announced the new Bing developer services, there had been some discussion inside the company about making these tools available to developers outside of the company. It’s a very good sign that those in favor of opening the platform up to outsiders won this fight.
The limitation right now is that some of these new Bing services will at least for now only be available for Microsoft’s own platforms, including Windows 8, 8.1 and Xbox One. Given Microsoft’s push to get more and better applications onto the Windows 8 platform (in the form of more “metro” apps), this move makes sense in the short-term, but if Microsoft really wants to turn Bing into a developer platform, it will have to open all of these services to developers on all platforms.
Microsoft knows that it’s competing for developers’ attention and mind share. Google already offers a plethora of services for developers, and Microsoft, despite its investment in Azure, Visual Studio, Team Foundation and the ecosystem around them, was never the go-to company for most developers who were looking for API-based services like maps, speech recognition or search tools.
If the company continues to invest in Bing as a platform and can demonstrate its commitment to these tools, it has a real chance to attract many developers who otherwise would have never considered using its tools or building for its platforms.