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September 25, 2009

Bing-sights With Stefan and Free T-Shirt Friday (#FTF)

Do you find yourself laying awake at night pondering how Bing is able to pull in so much information in it’s search result…or maybe as you drift off to sleep you envision Bing images scrolling infinitely or maybe you just in the need for more Bing information? Well, among the Seattle traffic and crisp autumn air we are having Stefan answer your questions and bring you some Bing Insight each Friday based on the questions and feedback we see in the Bing CommunityFacebook and Twitter.  He will also be announcing the Free T-Shirt Friday question of the day, so make sure you stay tuned and follow us on twitter (#FTF) for your chance at some sweet Bing attire.

Episode #1:

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Hope to see your #FTF on twitter!

Stefan – Bing, Director

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September 4, 2009

Picture the Impossible (with RIT, Democrat and Chronicle and Bing)!

What if, for a few months this fall, your town/neighborhood changed – became the site of three warring factions, each striving to gain eminence, each with people they are trying to protect? And even the newspaper was not immune to their petty rivalries and challenges?

What if you were invited to join one of the factions, to match wits with others in a secret society as slowly, slowly streets you thought you knew well and objects you pass every day – yielded up their secrets?  And each time you figured something out, those less fortunate would gain, with the ultimate prize being entry to an invitation-only display of wealth, power and beauty? (and fun too!)

Welcome to  “Picture the Impossible,” an alternate reality game created by the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper,  with technical development funded by Bing, that combines the thrill of intellectual pursuit with the footwork of geocaching games and the connoisseurs’ eye for art.

Contestants will compete for prizes they can win for themselves from Kodak while at the same time helping charities including Foodlink, Unity Health and the Wilson Commencement Park.  The culmination of the game is the invite-only ball on Halloween, where 300 contestants who have scored high enough in the challenges can attend.  (We are co-sponsoring the party too!)

To keep it lively, game activities will focus on a different theme related to Rochester, including imaging, social justice, food, music, arts and crafts, and “Rochester firsts.” The puzzles – to be found online, in the newspaper each week, and at locations/festivals around Rochester – draw from Rochester’s rich historical background of “picturing the impossible” – (Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, and Pictometry were all founded in Rochester), and Rochester was hole to historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass who themselves were ahead of their time. It won’t be enough to play the online version of the game – the newspaper will have tangible clues found only in its pages, while local puzzles by SCVNGR  will challenge folks to explore an area they thought they knew. 

What rocks for all of us in Seattle, of course, is that Bing Maps will be a key part of the online game play as both reference and part of the puzzles.  We are very excited to showcase the rich, visual data Bing Maps can provide while at the same time allowing people to just have fun with Bing!  For the curious game developers in the crowd, Chris Pendleton, Bing maps evangelist, will be posting information in a few weeks about how the technical integration piece worked for Picture the Impossible.

Though you can become a fan of the game anytime on Facebook, registration opens September 5th , while the game itself runs September 12th through October 31st (the ball is on Halloween of course).  Sign up at www.picturetheimpossible.com!

Betsy Aoki, Bing Program Manager

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August 18, 2009

Five Bing Contest Web Apps Chosen, to be Judged at Gnomedex

Gnomedex Photo by Scott Beale/ Laughing Squid

Well, it meant a lot of Excel spreadsheets (hey, we are Microsofties!) and a lot of off-hours surfing but we’ve finally come up with the 5 finalists that will be judged at Gnomedex this week for the final chapter of the Will Code for Green contest. Even if you aren’t among the top five, please know we appreciated and reviewed your efforts.

In no particular order

Ecology

Economy:

Barring any last-minute eligibility problems, the worst that can happen to any of these submissions is that it wins $3,000, and the best of course is that it takes its place as top of its category for $10,000 as a top Ecology or Economy application using Bing. Only the Gnomedex attendees can affect the fate of the submissions now, and they will be the first to know (announced on the last day of Gnomedex) who the top two winners are.

Even knowing from other developer contests that the last-minute rush can be substantial, we were still surprised to receive more than 40 submissions that had to be validated and evaluated.  Roughly a third of these were disqualified. Some of the disqualified entries were people openly advertising their business via the contest site, or folks who just didn’t get what the theme or rules of the contest were.

 If we couldn’t verify your application had called the Bing API all summer, well, you were also deemed out of the running.   (I mean, even if no one visits your web site, you still gotta test the application right?!)  A few applications that were otherwise interesting made the mistake of requiring personal information from the user to get at the functionality.

  

A few that didn’t win but we wanted to note…

Findfresh.us , a local produce-finding Web site to help you keep healthy and buying local as well as a volunteering opportunity site Improving the Global Economy One Life at a Time caught our eye. One judge liked  Cheapafoods.com , which gets special mention for that highly unnerving personage on the home page. 

Green Rhino  and www.Gogogreenrangers.com  represented interesting cross-application mashups in the same vein as www.bingtweets.com (sorry, that last one’s actually Bing’s own, but felt constrained to mention it).

A wacky one was Theemploymentrate.com, which measures how many people in you zip code ARE employed. It seemed novel until we realized using it might actually make the unemployed feel worse. Great graphics though.

We wanted to give a shout out to some university types that submitted, including The IT Job guide, while not a finalist, and the recipe results of Just Blend IT who had a strong following among the Bing foodies..

We also want to thank some folks in the community who spread the word about the contest for us and/or gave us feedback:

Coders – they provided some great examples for folks at http://www.programmableweb.com

Green-mindedTreehugger.com and thedailygreen.com as well as seattlegreendrinks.org

Personal finance bloggers at these sites – http://thesimpledollar.com, www.fivecentnickel.com, http://www.doughroller.net/, http://www.moolanomy.com, http://www.wisebread.com,   http://www.consumerismcommentary.com/  and http://www.thedigeratilife.com .

And of course the community at www.lockergnome.com and www.gnomdex.com!

On to Gnomedex!

Betsy Aoki, Bing Program Manager

 

 

 

 

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June 1, 2009

User Needs, Features and the Science behind Bing

This morning in the wee hours, we launched the Bing preview! I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some highlights and background on how Bing came to be.

 

What got us here?

Everything in Bing was driven by a focus on truly understanding searchers and their needs. When we looked at how people were using search today, we saw an opportunity to focus on three key trends: 

  • Information overload: With the explosion of digital content on the Web, it is harder than ever to find what you are looking for.
  • Search failure: Search engines are pretty good at lots of things, but the “Back” button is one of the most popular clicks in search today.
  • Complex tasks and decision making: People are spending more and more time in search trying to accomplish tasks and make decisions.

 

Information Overload:

To give you a sense of what we mean when we say “information overload”: In 1997 there were around 26M pages (URLs) on the Web. Today we estimate there are more than 1 trillion pages of content. In 1997 the Web was mostly text. Today it combines video, images, music, with new data formats emerging every day. The amount of available data has grown exponentially. An average person would need six hundred thousand decades of nonstop reading to read through the information. This has led people to experience information overload, so it’s no surprise that they are increasingly turning to — and more importantly — depending on search to help navigate and use the breadth and depth of Web content.

 

 Search Failure

Analysis of search usage data across all search engines (using our toolbar logs) shows that only about half of searches are successful on the first query and click.  Twenty four percent of the time, consumers have to perform an immediate re-query or keep searching, and 15% of the time they abandon their search altogether. A click on a search result is usually just the beginning of a search experience and not the conclusion. People perform a lot of back and forth navigation. In fact, the “Back” button in the browser is the most used button in a search session. More than 50% of queries are people returning to previous tasks, yet there is no memory, and no unification between tools. Queries aren’t done in isolation. They are usually part of a session, and these sessions may be long and repetitive. More than 50% of time spent on searching is spent in sessions over half an hour long. Yet, search engines today treat each query as an independent event. 

 

Complex Tasks and Decision Making

Perhaps the most interesting insight is that people are turning to search engines not only for information, but to help them complete complex tasks and make decisions They no longer want to just find a web page; they want to learn, shop, be entertained, accomplish tasks and make important decisions. This requires better conceptual organization, a unified experience, deeper task specific content selection and support for longer sessions.

 

Best Results, Organized Experience and Simplified Tasks

 With Bing, we directly focused on addressing information overload, search failures and the shift to tasks and decisions. Our goals for the service were to:

  1. Deliver best results
  2. Organize the search experience
  3. Simplify common tasks and help inform decisions

To deliver the best results, we combined a range of technologies developed over the past five years, with new features available only on Bing. We have done a lot of work to try to anticipate searcher intent and assist consumers – by focusing on relevance, quality of results and direct access to answers. Consumers can get directly to their information, and reduce the amount of back and forth in a given session.

 

  • Relevance of results and ads – We’ve made significant gains in relevance of both the algorithmic Web results and the advertising.
  • Best Match – This feature is a fast way to identify the best matched site for a given query. Target is a great example – try it here.
  • Definitive card (D-card) – Building on the best match idea, we also offer additional information for some queries including hard to find information such as the customer service information telephone number – try it here for UPS.
  • Deep Links – You’ll see in both of the above examples a feature we call Deep Links. These are the set of eight links in Best Match or D-card under the site description. These offer a fast shortcut deeply into the most relevant parts of that site.
  • Answers – We continue to expand our answers service to cover “people, places and things.” We’ll blog more about the specific answers in future posts.
  • Search History – This feature is aimed at helping you get back to the searches you’ve done before and save you clicks. You can see it in the left-hand Explore Pane.

 

With Bing, we help make some progress against information overload by offering consumers a more organized experience and a suite of tools to quickly get them to the right information with minimum effort.

 

  • Page organization– You’ll see that we have made significant changes in how we present the results in Bing, both on the results page where we introduced a three column layout, but also as you navigate from Web results to images, video, maps, local or shopping results. The UI is consistent throughout the experience, meaning you find the same features in the same places no matter where you are on Bing.
  • Explore Pane – We have introduced the new left hand pane, which we call the Explore Pane. This is where we offer features that help with searching. It includes Quick Tabs, Related Searches and Search History. One can think about the Explore Pane as a permanent companion throughout the Bing experience, a bit like the new Office Menus are to the Microsoft Office Suite, ensuring a consistent and contextual experience.
  • Quick Tabs – The Quick Tabs give you easy access to the most common refinements for a given query. This categorization is aimed at making it easy to refine your query and reduce information overload.
  • Document Preview – With so many clicks coming back from unsatisfactory results, this feature lets you preview what is on a site from the results page, to help Bing “inform the click,” with the goal of reducing wasted trips to sites you weren’t looking for.
  • Improved captions – We have improved the quality of the document summarization to provide you an easy to read snippet to make an informed decision on whether the document is relevant to your query.

 

Finally we shifted our thinking a bit and moved from single queries to complex sessions, task accomplishment and decision making as organizing principles in areas of shopping, travel, health and local. Searchers’ needs have evolved and search does poorly in these areas. In fact, 66% of people told us that they increased their dependency on search engines to make decisions in the last year. We see this as an opportunity to simplify common tasks. Bing’s new interface allows us to integrate the power of specialized search experiences and tie them to your query.

 

  • Shopping: For shopping queries you can start at bing.com and quickly and easily move through your shopping tasks using shopping filters, our opinion ranking feature to learn what other people think of the product, read official reviews, and ultimately get cashback on product you buy with our partners.
  • Local: Often people need to find local businesses, and we simplify the task by offering simple filters, opinion ranking for local businesses, quick access to local reviews, high fidelity maps, and our unique Photosynth feature.
  • Travel: For those common travel tasks, we offer a meta-search experience that provides a great search over flights and hotels, and our exclusive Price Predictor technology for flights and Rate Indicator for hotels.
  • Health: With health queries, people are often concerned that they’re not getting reliable content – a classic issue with search overload. Bing brings together comprehensive health articles from a library of trusted resources, including Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, MD Consult, Gold Standard and more.

 

The Science behind Bing

None of this would have been possible without a bunch of cool computer science and a team who loves to try new and innovative things.

 

Today we wanted to talk about five efforts that have enabled the features you see in Bing: organizing search results, intent-specific relevance and freshness of the results, enrichment of the search index, storage and computation grid and high scale infrastructure.

 

In Bing we took a novel approach for organizing our search results. Instead of applying simple classification techniques, we constructed user query and click graphs and used them to build true interaction models that can represent complex user tasks. This has allowed us to adapt from general to intent-specific ranking and to organize results into sets of topics that can be used to help find information, make decisions and complete tasks. We also invested in technologies and algorithms for extracting structure from unstructured data and applying organizational taxonomies.  Even though the organization is not nearly as intuitive as one done by a human editorial process, we are able to achieve it in a fully automated way allowing for fast scaling and reacting to changes.

 

We continue our focus on relevance, with additional spotlights on real time indexing and ranking, comprehensiveness and quality of content in the index.  We added a number of new relevance features to RankNet (our ranking system) to improve search quality. We also have scaled our experimentation infrastructure to run tens of thousands of experiments in order to improve our results and related searches. We produce specialized nets that can be applied to different query types. We rely on a large number of implicit and explicit metrics when evaluating each experiment to gain a holistic understanding on how the new changes will affect the efficiency and satisfaction of our users.

 

We have also enriched our index by developing technologies in HTML parsing, core Natural Language Processing, entity extraction, and document classification. We continuously increase the size of our index, while ensuring high quality in the documents we add.  In Bing, we improved our freshness detection and updated algorithms.  We understand documents which change frequently and developed what we call “Superfresh” techniques to ensure that the index always has the most real-time content.

 

In the last 6 months, we’ve also made large investments in our storage and computation grid. This has significantly increased our capability for complex data mining and development of new algorithms. Our data-parallel execution environment and computer grids have allowed us to do arbitrary computations and analysis on petabyte sized chucks of data in minutes.   

 

Finally, to make all this possible we expanded our infrastructure to hundreds of thousands of machines. This has been made possible through full automation of deployment, monitoring and self repair of each server. Our internal systems not only deploy new machines across geographically distinct datacenters, but can dramatically reduce or fully eliminate the need for human deployments or monitoring in our core infrastructure.

 

More to Come…

Today I’ve given you a quick overview of many of the features and new thinking that’s gone into making Bing possible. In the coming weeks, we will go deeper and you can expect to see a whole series of blog posts that go behind the scenes of the product. We’ll have some of our best minds drill down on the technical areas and give you a peek at some of the juicy computer science problems we are working to deliver and improve the features you see in Bing today.

 

But until then, now it’s time to BING IT ON!

 

Satya Nadella, Senior Vice President, Research and Development, Online Services Division

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May 29, 2009

Next best thing to Bing


Have you been itching to try out Bing? Looking longingly at the screenshots around the Web wondering how those lucky few got early access? Wondering who you have to know to get an invite code to check out all your favorite queries?


How about the next best thing? Head over to the BehindBing site at http://www.discoverbing.com/behindbing/ and get all the cool-kids info to help you get ready for Bing’s public launch. You can see some behind-the-scenes videos (shot with soft lighting so you know they are serious) featuring some of our engineers, way too much Stefan, live Twitter and Blog feeds so you can see what the world is saying about us (that sounds so narcissistic) and most importantly for some — the Product Guide. It has a bunch of great info on all the features, how to use them once Bing is alive for all, screenshots, and screencasts featuring…yes…more Stefan. It’s like I’m a video virus. Get it here!


Enjoy!


Stefan Weitz, Director, Bing

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May 28, 2009

A Letter to Bing

Dear Bing (the Author),


 


We couldn’t help sit up and take notice of your offer of services from one Bing to another.  We were moderately surprised and mildly excited. As you might have guessed, today is quite a big day for us.  Even so, we dropped everything when we saw your press release this morning.  After an emergency meeting (three people were invited, all declined), we’ve decided to take you up on your offer.  We’re not certain what exactly this would involve. We’re not certain it would pay much (nothing, actually) but we look forward to starting a dialogue and hope we can work together soon.  Let’s do lunch. In the meantime we are sending you a case of moderately priced cigars.


 


Your pals,


Bing.com

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March 14, 2009

First day of SxSW Interactive: Blogger lounge tweetup, meeting Nadia, pizza!

This is not the Texas weather we are used to; in fact it looks a bit like Seattle today mixed with Chicago style winds. The wet air does not smell of smoke, beer, or bbq; there are no bats. But the Internet works and the energy is getting to that crackling melting pot.


Nadia_smallpic


We began our Friday by meeting up with our sponsored guest, Nadia Payan, for breakfast and then off to registration at the Austin Convention Center. Aya wanted to make sure we knew where the blogger lounge was for the tweetup at 4-6pm so we ventured in early and got things ready.


Below is Aya being the “King of Swag.” At least til he can give it all away!


aya_at_blogger_lounge_small


The tweetup itself was great, with elbow-to-elbow standing room in the Austin suite, a rousing rendition of Kids in America by Tara Hunt on Rockband (and many other fine performances by attendees, I just happened to catch that vocal set). Internetgeekgirl Stephanie Agresta kept things hopping, we passed out Live Search t-shirts as the beer and wine flowed. The Austin  had this huge portal-esque window from floor to ceiling, and at one point we opened the door to the outside just to let the chill air cool the packed crowds.


I used our new Flip video camera to shoot video of Stefan and Nadia talking about the tweetup, and the amazing chain of events that led her to Austin and SxSW.  We are glad for the generosity of so many people that together with our own sponsorship, allowed us to get the chance to meet her.  This is only the first event at the TechSet lounge and it was a great prelude to the evening.


wineglass_belmont


Stefan’s wineglass photo above is deceptive – this is the Belmont BEFORE the TechSet party got raging to a standstill of packed people unable to move around the bar. Trust our guys to get there and stake out an early spot.


Even though the winds were chill, Austin partyers were out and about.


freepizza_stonys_snapshot


The evening capped off with our crew delivering free pizza from Stony’s at 6th and Red River from midnight to 3 a.m. The line was never less than 15 people long, and who can blame them – hot pizza on a cold night really hits the spot. These are stills from the video I took; we hope to have the full video later.


 pizza_line_drpepper


Whooping it up for live.com & Live Search.


Folks who hadn’t heard of us, got stickers and a cheesy reminder (sometimes with  pepperoni) to try us out!


happy_pizza_pepper


And then the Cherry Dr. Pepper guys came over and spontaneously donated cases and cases of the new soda for our folks to try. Random acts of beverage kindness! The Stony’s guys are fast – they made 20 pizzas an hour, giving away 12 slices per pizza.


We’ll be doing it again tonight from midnight-3 a.m. at the same spot, so see you on the streets of Austin!


Betsy Aoki, Live Search

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