Search

Bing to integrate results from WolframAlpha

Very interesting announcement today by Microsoft that bing.com will now include computational results from WolframAlpha directly within the bing search result:

This has the potential to be really cool and might drive more people to give bing a try over sticking with Google. However, I haven’t been able to actually see this in the live bing search results yet, so we’ll need to wait for a bit before it gets rolled out.

See techmeme.com for more coverage on this…

Get Twitter and Facebook results (and much more) in your search

OK, so the news are abuzz in recent days about Google adding real-time Twitter data to their search results and there is also a lot of blogging going on about Microsoft adding Twitter search to Bing. But the real news has been totally overlooked by the majority of tech blogs and news media until now: earlier this week kikin announced the start of their public beta on their blog by posting “we are live!

KikinLogo I’ve long been following kikin and was lucky enough to be one of their early testers, so I’ve been using the service for several months now – and I wouldn’t know what to do without it anymore. Kikin does one thing that neither a Google nor a Bing native Twitter or Facebook search can do: it gives me personalized and relevant search results from my feeds and my favorite websites right within the standard Google or Bing results and it lets me customize and select those personalized results in a very intuitive manner.

For example, since I shop on Amazon a lot, when I search for “Marblehead” on Bing, kikin will display personalized search results above the normal bing results that are relevant for me – in this case I find a great book by Ulrike Welsch that captures Marblehead in awesome photos:

KikinBingAmazon

As you can see, kikin has added these results above the normal search results, so you don’t have to change your browsing or surfing behavior or use a different search engine. There are several tabs that let you pick from which source you want to see relevant results, for example if I do the same search in Google and click on the Facebook tab in kikin, I see results directly from my Facebook news feed (i.e. only results posted by my friends on Facebook):

KikinGoogleFacebook

And obviously, if I click on Twitter, I can see relevant results only from people whom I follow, or I can even go a step further and only see relevant results that are directly addressed to me on Twitter:

KikinBingTwitter

By default, kikin only takes up very little space, so you still see your natural search results below, but if you want to focus on more results from one of your sources, you can expand the kikin box by clicking on the green plus sign in the lower right corner:

KikinGoogleFacebookLarge

The truly remarkable thing about kikin is that it is non-invasive. If there are no relevant results in any of your feeds or favorite websites, then it won’t interfere and will just display the natural search result. Even if that is the case, kikin still adds tremendous value to that result, because it has a built-in video player enhancement that lets you watch every video you find within the natural search result directly within your result page rather than having to click through to the site:

KikinVideoPlayer

So how does kikin do all of that? Kikin is a free browser plug-in that is currently available for Safari (on the Macintosh), Internet Explorer and FireFox (on WIndows). You can directly download and install the kikin plug-in from their website. Once you’ve installed the plug-in, you can use the Settings page to connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts:

KikinConnect

In all my recent testing I’ve found kikin to be invaluable in unearthing highly relevant content that is otherwise hidden in my social stream: by augmenting every Google or Bing search with results from my social media interactions, I find valuable information that would otherwise remain hidden, or would only be accessible if I repeated my search in three places.

And it is this deeply personalized addition to the search results that makes kikin so valuable. All those newly announced Search partnerships between Twitter and Bing or Google may be great, if you want to search the entire public stream for information (e.g. ski conditions in Colorado), but the results are not going to be as important to you, as results specifically from your actual friends on Facebook or information from people you follow on Twitter or from other websites you frequently visit. That is the true power of kikin: to augment search results with highly relevant and deeply personalized content.

So is kikin perfect? Of course not, it is just the first public beta version and I’m sure that they’ll iron out some minor issues over the next several months as they get reported by users. My only two complaints about kikin at this point in time are (a) that is doesn’t work with Chrome yet (but they’ve already announced that Chrome support will be coming) and (b) that if you use multiple browsers or multiple computers you have to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts separately for each installation. I would probably have preferred to create one account on the kikin website, connect with my other social media accounts, and then just provided that one account login for each installation.

Bing: first impressions

Last Thursday, when Microsoft announced their new search engine, bing.com, they were being ridiculed by many, because the website wasn’t ready and Google stole a bit of the thunder with their own announcement of Google Wave.

Today, it appears that nobody is laughing (unless they are ready the Onion coverage) as the positive comments keep rolling in. It turns out that – like in so many other cases – Microsoft usually gets it right on the 2nd (or 3rd) attempt.

But I’m talking about the technology, not the name. Whatever were they thinking, when they called it “Bing”??

In any case, I’ve been testing bing.com today, and I must say that there are indeed a few new and innovative things in bing.com that could convince people (myself included) to start using it instead of Google:

  1. Preview of search results
    For every page in the natural search result you get a short preview of the content of that page, or a short excerpt with other helpful links, for example when I hover over the entry for our XMLSpy XML Editor, a little window pops up to the right of it with some details:
    XMLEditorOnBing
  2. Automatic categories and web groups
    If you are searching for a fairly generic term, or if you’ve entered a keyword phrase that can be interpreted in different ways, the result will include a list of categories or “web groups” on the left side and the overall result list will also be organized with a few entries per such group, for example a search for “xml” will yield separate groups for “Specifications”, “Tools”, etc.:
    BingCategories
  3. Preview of video results
    Finding videos in search results is nothing new, but a live preview of the video just by hovering the mouse over the still frame is really cool:
    BingVideos
  4. Integration of reference materials
    Whether you are searching for people or for treatment for medial issues, one of the interesting things that sets bing.com apart is the integration of reference materials. For example, searching for poison ivy and then clicking on “Articles” on the left side, produces a full article within the bing.com platform that has been imported from Wikipedia. Similarly, I just found that when I “bing myself” there is a photo and a link to another reference article at the bottom of the search results – the information again appears to be imported from Wikipedia:
    BingAFalk
  5. Cashback when you buy items online
    OK, this one almost sounds like from a cheesy commercial, but when you think about it for a moment, it is really quite brilliant. When you register with bing.com you can set up a cashback account, which you can link to your bank account or PayPal, and then – whenever you search for items online and actually go to a vendor to purchase them – you get a percentage of the purchase price back. Especially in tough economic times, that can be a big incentive to start your next online shopping trip on bing.com instead of the “other” search-engine:
    BingCashback

To find out more about all the new features, I recommend reading the Bing Reviewer’s Guide that is part of the official press kit or taking this tour of bing.

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo - interesting synchronicity

I could not help, but notice an interesting synchronicity between the various announcements and news clips about these three firms in the last 2-3 weeks or so:


Sep 9, 2007Microsoft fails to win ISO approval for OOXML. A review of detailed country comments does, however, show that they are likely going to succeed in the next round in March 2008.
Sep 16, 2007Yahoo launches Mash - a new social networking site designed to compete with Facebook.
Sep 17, 2007Google adds slide-show/presentation application to Google Documents in an effort to increase competition with Microsoft Office.
Sep 24, 2007The The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is in talks with Facebook to acquire a 5% stake in the social networking site.
Sep 27, 2007Microsoft announced an updated Search capability in the Live Search engine. Incidentally it is also Google's 9th birthday.
Sep 30, 2007Microsoft unveils its answer to Google Docs called Office Live Workspaces.
Oct 1, 2007Yahoo announced a new Search Assist function to improve Yahoo Search.
Oct 2, 2007Steve Ballmer speaks in Europe and says that the craze for individual social networks such as Facebook risks being exposed as a "fad". UPDATE: Robert Scoble responds that Steve Ballmer doesn't "get" social networking.

Office, Social Networking, Search, Office, Social Networking, Search, ... — is it just me, or is there some kind of pattern here?

And it all seems to revolve around online advertising platforms. Hmmmm.

Microsoft releases updated Live Search

Microsoft has announced today that the updated Live Search engine includes a 4 x increase in index size, significant enhancements in the core algorithms, increased focus on query refinement, and a new web data extraction model.

More details about these technical improvements are promised to appear in the LiveSearch Blog over the next couple of days.

I've tested the new Live Search today, and it indeed produces more accurate results than Google: e.g. searching for the term "XML Editor" on Google produces a whole bunch of irrelevant web pages and entries on the first page of the search results - including websites like Peter's XML Editor that aren't even supported/maintained anymore. Ironically, the #1 best-selling XML Editor and de-facto industry standard tool - Altova XMLSpy - is not even listed on that first page of results.

In contrast, the same search for the term "XML Editor" on Live Search will produce only highly relevant entries, including Altova XMLSpy as well as some competitors that are indeed maintaining their software and keeping it current.

It may have taken Microsoft a while to get Live Search right, but that's simply how they work:
  • The first version of Internet Explorer wasn't the killer, but subsequent versions kicked Netscape's butt.

  • The first version of Visual Studio wasn't damaging the Borland developer tools, but future releases forced them out of the market.

  • The first XBox wasn't hurting the PS2, but the XBox 360 is showing Sony who's boss, or rather who's Master Chief.

Extrapolate from those examples to the field of search, and I'd say now is a good time for Google to start to fear Microsoft...