Microsoft updates Bing with 'Visual Search' feature

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is stepping up its assault on Google with the introduction of a unique beta search and shopping tool called Visual Search. The Visual Search feature offers an alternative to lists of blue links that are often delivered by search engines when researching cars, cameras, or other topics. Visual Search was announced Monday by Yusuf Mehdi, a senior vice president at Microsoft, at Tech Crunch 50, a tech conference being held in San Francisco.

Instead of displaying traditional lists of Web site search results Bing’s Visual Search displays rows images of items that can be scrolled through via a slick interface. For example a search on Bing for handbags, Yoga poses, or movie showtimes will deliver traditional results. Now look to the left-hand side of your search resulst and you’ll see a “Visualize” the search option. Clicking on this link takes you to the Visual Search page that allows you to scour images—not text links—to help you explore or winnow your search down fast. The tool also offers refinement options to narrow the number of images by criteria such as price, movie theater, or team (when searching for sports).

Bing’s Visual Search feature
To preview Visual Search topics visit this Bing page.

Microsoft says Visual Search will be rolled into Bing over the next few weeks with some customers seeing it before others. By the end of September, it says, the feature will be live to all. The move comes as Microsoft has seen moderate success with Bing. Since its launch in May Microsoft’s Bing search market share in the U.S. grew slightly in July to 9 percent, according ComScore, a market research firm. Google owns 65 percent of the search market compared to Yahoo with 19 percent (Bing and Yahoo’s combined market share is 27 percent).

Visual Search: Hands on

With the example of visually searching for cars, I started out with 25 images appearing on my Web browser. Using a scroll bar on the right I was able to quickly scroll through hundreds of images of cars. When I hovered my mouse over a picture of a specific car a balloon popped up containing additional vehicle information. Click on the image and you are taken to Bing search results for the make and model of the car you were looking at.

Thanks to a slick user interface, kicking virtual tires of cars is loads of fun, but what makes this technology really handy is its ability to winnow down you search. On the left-hand side are tools for narrowing the number of cars by 25 most popular, SUVs, or make and base price. Each time you select a preference the number images is reduced.

Unfortunately, Visual Search limited to 50 topics Microsoft has created Visual Search libraries for. That’s right, there is no Bing engine that can create a Visual Search result on-the-fly for just any topic. Microsoft creates them specifically for what it says is popular search results. Search cell phones, Olympic sports, or laptops and no such Visual Search is offered.

I found this an addictive way to explore topics not limited to cars, but also politicians in office, MLB players, and dog breeds.

The number of topics Microsoft says it will expand to depends on how popular the feature is with Bing users.

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