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Microsoft Bing gets visual search; full 2.0 update later this fall

Microsoft is adding to Bing a new visual-search feature, which it will begin rolling out on September 14. But a full-fledged refresh of Bing isn't coming until later this fall, Microsoft officials said.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

Microsoft is adding to Bing a new visual-search feature, which it will begin rolling out on September 14. But a full-fledged refresh of Bing isn't coming until later this fall, Microsoft officials said.

At last week's annual company meeting, some Microsoft employees tweeted that Microsoft was readying a Bing 2.0 update and that it might roll out as soon as this week. Mapping and Silverlight integration with Bing are among some of the capabilities on tap, the tweeters who saw the demos last week said.

Tweets or no tweets, "there isn't really a Bing 2.0," claimed Stefan Weitz, a Director in Microsoft's Bing group.

Weitz said Microsoft is currently doing monthly updates to Bing, the renamed and revamped "decision engine" it rolled out in late May. But there is a more comprehensive, full-fledged update of Bing coming this fall, he acknowledged, though he declined to call it Bing 2.0. He also wasn't ready to share specifics about what's coming in the larger release.

Today's update is about offering searchers a new option for displaying results, Weitz said. Bing users who go to Bing.com/visualsearch will be able to see about 50 initial "classes," or galleries, via which they'll be able to browse a variety of brands, places and people. Images of hundreds of celebrities, politicians, handbags, and travel destinations will be presented to searchers to held them weed through results more quickly.

Here's what the main gallery page looks like:

Over time, the plan  is for Microsoft to integrate these visual-search results into the Bing home page and navigation bar.

And here's what a Bing visual search for "NFL teams" returns:

Visual search is better suited to some kinds of queries than others, Weitz concurred.

"We're trying to get everyone to think about search differently," Weitz said. "We're seeking to provide an experience that makes sense for a particular modality."

Microsoft's visual-search technology, with its  Silverlight 3.0 thumbnail images, was developed internally by the Bing team, Weitz said. He said the team researched a year ago the various ways that queries manifest, and developed the new technology to help make it easier for users to narrow their search results. For certain kinds of queries -- such as those from searchers looking to buy something -- visual search helped them locate the correct results 20 percent faster than text results alone, Microsoft found.

In related news, it looks like the first milestone test build of at least some of the components which will comprise Windows Live Wave 4 is out. I wonder whether the bigger Bing update will be timed to coincide with a public test build of Live Wave 4 ....

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