The New Bing Box, A Foursquare Map App, And Other Search Goodies

Today, Bing is announcing more refinements to its search engine. The most noticeable one is what Bing director Stefan Weitz unofficially calls the “Bing Box.” For popular search categories such as celebrities, cities, companies, musicians, movies, places, and sports, the top result will be the Bing Box, which will pull in an image and a link to the official site, along with some relevant data. For pop music star Lady Gaga, it might be concert dates and realtime Tweets. For “Miami Beach,” it might be a thumbnail of a map, the current weather, flight deals, and a list of neighborhoods.

The Bing Box is similar to Google’s Universal Search Onebox that pulls in images and results from different vertical search categories and places it at the top of the search results page. But the Bing Box packages the data in a slightly different manner. “That center search pane with a bunch of links is going to change,” predicts Weitz.

Bing wants to compete against Google with a better presentation of information and design of the user experience. In addition to the Bing Box, it is tweaking the guided search along the left-hand column. It is getting rid of the drill-down search categories which currently appear in the prime top-left location. Nobody was clicking on them. Instead, different types of filters and related searches will appear there. Weitz notes that related searches on Bing get a 16 percent click-through rate, and search history gets a 3 percent click-through rate. So those two are staying.

Underneath the search bar will be a new set of tabs appropriate to the search term. For a rock band, the tabs may include events, news, videos, and images. While a search for a place will bring up tabs for maps, events, news and the weather.

On Bing Maps, a new Foursquare app will show places where people have left comments and tips. The app will allow user to see Foursquare check-ins, badges, and mayorships within a Bing Map. In addition, anyone will be able to see tips from any foursquare customer and zoom to the location for visualization. Bing is also adding more eye-catching graphical elements to its autosuggest. So stock charts and weather icons will begin to appear in the drop-down list of suggestions once you start typing your search query. Weitz says that a whopping 30 percent of searches on Bing are already launched from the autosuggest feature. Separately, a comparison feature will start to be rolled out as well for sports teams, presenting side-by-side stats in search results.

Finally, Bing is creating a dedicated page for all automobile searches, much like it already does for events and recipes. The guided search on the left includes a breakdown by different trims, competitors, and model year. While the new tabs on top will include images, videos, and specs. Bing is building out more of these so-called domain task pages for different topics. Later this year, videogame searches will get their own special treatment, with shortcuts to find cheats, walkthroughs, and reviews.

“There isn’t another technology that is eight years old that you would be satisfied with,” says Weitz, referring to how little the search experience has changed since Google hit the scene and offered up its spare blue links. As the Web moves away from being mostly just text to images, video, and rich pools of data, he thinks there are better ways to present that information in a way that reduces the work and effort required of the user.