Over the last couple of days, the new re-branding (and re-imagining) of Microsoft's Live search, now called Bing has been made public. Well, almost public anyway, right now the service isn't available to the public, but a lot of journalists and techies have gotten access. Here are some of their early thoughts (via Digg).
I actually got a look myself from a friend who has access, and have a couple of thoughts. First of all, it's not going to un-seat Google. Nope, sorry, no chance. While it's search results are fine, so are most of the other search engines out there. Ask, Yahoo, etc all have decent search engines and search results.
Luckily, this isn't what Bing is going for (I hope it's not anyway). Bing is going for what Ask did a while back, taking their half decent search results and skinning and organizing the results to make the results more useful. When Ask did this they did an "OK" job I think, but I have to say the new Bing is impressive.
For certain searches (ie: "yvr to lax" or "pentax k20d" or "vw golf review") the results are filtered and presented in completely different ways. For example, plane flight searches have tips such as "prices dropping $50, wait" or "prices trending up, buy now". Product reviews (especially for tech gadgets) are the bane of Google, with SEO and spam hitting the top pages like mad. Bing will filter by "trust" (ie: the "x out of y found this helpful" notes on Amazon reviews) and various other factors to give a more useful result.
This isn't perfect though. A search for "digital camera" filtered in this method resulted in the top hit being a 3 year old DSLR (and a great camera by the way). Probably not what you were wanting, even if it is the most "trusted" hit. This sort of thing will no doubt become better over time though.
Bing also does what Google does with fancy image searches (including "portraits", "line art", only xxx color) and mapping results related to location right in the search result page. This sort of thing though is what people are used to these days. Not that it's inconsequential of course :)
So what's the downside? First of all, the results are going to be about the same as google, so why move away? I see Bing being a bit of a niche search engine, the sort of thing where if you're looking for plane flights or hotels, you go to bing, for everything else you stay with google. This is a perfectly fine place for Bing to be I think. Hell, right now Live search has as good results as google without any of these nicities! The problem with the fancy filtered airline searches is do you trust Microsoft to give you "honest" results? MS has partnered with certain companies to get the fancy airline data for example, but what if there's another company that gives better prices? By filtering down does MS miss the deals that a googler might get because they are getting the full results instead of the filtered view of what Microsoft thinks are the best results? I think some of this can be negated if Bing makes it obvious that the "yvr to lax" fancy filtered results are indeed connections with their partnered sites.
The interface, if I may digress for a moment or three, could be better too. Some of the UI is neat, but odd. For example to the right of search results is a little bar that gives you an overview of information from the site (such as a paragraph or three of context around your search result instead of just the one line that you get on the main search result). If it's person information it'll pop out contact information if it's available all nicely formatted. Great stuff, but as I said, a bit of odd UI.
My conclusion is we'll have to wait and see. I'm sure that Bing will become the default search engine for some, and will become successful for niche searches and certain types of information gathering. I don't think it'll unseat the 800lb Google-rilla though.