Bing and the UX

September 15, 2009

User experience is a big deal in the Microsoft search universe. UX is short hand for user experience. The idea is that style and flash are essential to building traffic and habituating users. I think that for some people the interface is a big deal as long as the search results are relevant and the information useful. The “new” visual search feature for will force the dowdy Google search box to take some action. There is a tit for tat interaction in search at this time, and I am not sure if the search war arms race will end any time soon. The US and the USSR sniped at one another for half a century before the economic foundations of the USSR underwent a radical phase change. You can see a screen shot of the new (albeit limited use) visual search output on The image appears in the story “Microsoft Launches Bing ‘Visual Search’”.


Source: Microsoft

Megite and TechMeme have dozens of links to stories explaining the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and even the flips and flops of this innovation. One post I found interesting was Microsoft’s own “Visual Search – Why type When You Can See It?” The best part of the write up was the question, “Why type when you can see it?” Why, indeed? I think that visual search works for information objects that are visual. I am not sure how I would locate information on Riemann manifolds. A picture of an equation might be helpful to some, but I think certain topics require words.

Several observations on visual search are warranted:

  • Focusing on the visual experience is important. But the plumbing – that is, the underlying index of content, the metatags for context, and the refreshing of the index – has to be pretty darned good. Pictures of a digital cameras can be useful but if the images are last month’s model, I don’t think the pictures will be too useful.
  • The Apple approach to interface is usually (though not always) supported by Apple hardware. When the interfaces are attempted on underpowered machines, the interfaces become an annoyance. Apple’s advantage, if it has one, is that it controls hardware and software. Similar controls are not in place for Microsoft’s interfaces. Also, Microsoft’s own interfaces vary with product families; for example, the method of changing a font size varies within Word, Visio, and PowerPoint. UX is easy to spell and say. I think it is harder to do in a consistent, speedy implementation.
  • UX can shift attention from what really matters in search; that is, the robustness of the metadata and the depth of the content pool. Google and Microsoft appear to be similar in many search results I examine. The difference often boils down to hits that are findable in Google but not in Microsoft’s Bing. I have a hunch that the Google index depth is greater than’s. A Microsoft professional asserted to me that’s index was equivalent to Google’s. I have no firm evidence to dispute this assertion.

Will UX lead to dominance in search? Good question.

Stephen Arnold, September 15, 2009


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