The local versions of Microsoft's latest crack at Google, a new search engine called Bing, will go live in Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday in beta form.
Example www.bing.com.au homepage
Journalists experienced a live demo this morning from servers in the US, but next week will see it moved onto production servers to bring the new product down under.
Ninemsn, a joint venture between Microsoft and PBL Media, led the launch of the search engine this morning, stating the company's hopes of getting a bigger slice of the search market, which ninemsn director of MSN products Alex Parsons said would be $800 million in Australia in the 2010 financial year. "Search really is now the new rivers of gold," he said.
Bing has been two years in the making according to ninemsn. Despite scepticism that Microsoft could do better with Bing than it could with Windows Live Search, Parsons thought that this time the search engine would gain traction.
"In this market, brand is king" he said. No one in Australia really knew about Windows Live Search, he said. The goal was to reach 2 per cent market share next year and then to continue growing incrementally, Parsons said, without spending much on advertising for the new site in Australia.
Ninemsn would instead use its "own backyard" to drive traffic to the site. There will be links to Bing via Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, ninemsn and the ACP magazines. There will also be sections after Channel Nine television shows telling viewers to access Bing for more information and users who go to Live Search will be redirected to Bing.
According to ninemsn, 8.2 million people visit its site each month, which it says represents 70 per cent of Australia's active internet audience.
The advertising would be sold through Yahoo Search Marketing, which would hold a trade show to educate the market. Those working in search engine optimisation wouldn't need to change their existing practices, Parsons said.
Parsons took gathered media through a demonstration showing new features such as "instant answers", which guesses from search data what a viewer might really be looking for and provides direct answers as opposed to just a site link; hover preview, which allows searchers to see a skeleton of a page's map without clicking on a link; and new features for being able to search for images and video.
Ninemsn's Alex Parsons
Those features would be available on Wednesday while other special features for travel search, local search, shopping search and health search would be added "as soon as possible".
The idea was to make search less painful, quicker and informed by other users' experience in related searches, Parsons said. "Consumers shouldn't have to rely on their own intuition," he said.
The home site for the search engine is the most visual differentiation from the Google search engine, featuring a high-definition image. The Australian Bing will feature images of landscapes such as Uluru, events such as the Melbourne film festival or Australian fauna. Hotspots on the image allow a user to find information relevant to the picture by hovering over it.
According to ninemsn CEO Joe Pollard, the homepage gives the site the ability to move with the mood of the nation by, for example, placing images from a current election. The homepage will not be for sale for advertising, she said.
A mobile site will also be ready for next week, although Parsons said that not all of the features leant themselves to the different format. He did not specify which would be cut.
There will be a team working on the localised version, however, how many people this will be and where they were based was not announced today. Pollard said there would be an announcement soon.