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Microsoft's New Search Engine "BING"


Microsoft Corp. hasn't had much success competing head-on with Google Inc. in the Internet search market. Now it's staging a flank attack.

Its new Bing Internet search engine, which it showed publicly for the first time Thursday, will still provide search results for any term an online user types into it. But Bing is initially designed to provide a much richer search experience for people looking for information in four categories: shopping, travel, health and local businesses.

The strategy could give Microsoft a shot at peeling away users from rival search engines in some popular search areas that also offer lucrative opportunities for selling related advertising.

But even if Microsoft is successful, it still faces the problem that Google and Yahoo could simply duplicate Bing's features. Search engines have a long history of copying each other's interface changes.

In recent years, for example, all of them have begun suggesting related search terms and blending more photos and videos into their search results.

"If some particular feature becomes particularly popular, it wouldn't be terribly difficult for Google to mimic that feature," says Greg Sterling, an Internet analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence, a research firm.

Bing faces another challenge as well: Microsoft's own research shows that more than 60% of consumers say they are satisfied with existing Internet search engines. That doesn't bode well for the company's efforts to eat into Google's 64% share of the U.S. search market, which far outstrips Yahoo's 20% share and Microsoft's 8%, according to comScore Inc.


Still, there's evidence consumers aren't finding what they want very quickly through existing search engines, says Frederick Savoye, Microsoft's senior director of search.

Microsoft's research shows only one in four searches are satisfactory on the first try. Most others force users to repeatedly refine their queries or to click around on the Web before locating what they need.

Bing's travel-related searches illustrate how Microsoft will try to one-up its competitors.

The top results from a Bing search for the words "flights from Seattle to San Francisco" include a link that shows a low roundtrip fare of $117. The search page also offers an icon predicting, based on historical trends, what will happen to ticket prices over the next seven days.

The links, powered by a travel search engine called Farecast that Microsoft acquired last year, lead to a Bing Travel site from which users can link to airline sites to purchase tickets.

A search for the same terms on Google and Yahoo provides links to airline and booking-agency Web sites, but no ticket prices or predictions about how they will change.

Microsoft's approach of going after the four search categories mirrors attempts others have made to compete with Google by building so-called "vertical" search engines, which specialize in showing results in categories where Google's results are perceived to be weak.

In general, those properties have failed to gain much traction because most consumers prefer a one-stop shop. At the same time, Yahoo and Google have developed and deployed technology unique to specific search areas, like local businesses and shopping.

Google and Yahoo say they welcome the competition from Bing. "The search industry is still in its infancy and there are limitless opportunities for innovation and competition amongst companies including Microsoft," says Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Labs and Yahoo Search Strategy.


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