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Thursday, 12 November 2009 03:16

Microsoft launches Bing's 'next chapter'

Upstart search engine Bing is getting some new features and search enhancements, including more direct travel searching, improved previews, and customizable maps.

As outlined on the Bing blog, Microsoft identified three qualities people are looking for in search engines: relevant results, a variety of answers, and quick response.

The new features are supposed to move Bing forward in those areas. They're being rolled out in the U.S. starting this week.

One set of enhancements are in travel planning, an area where Microsoft has always emphasized Bing's strengths.

Travel search results will now also come with destination information. For example, a search on the name of a city will return expanded results, with direct links to attractions, neighborhoods, and other local info.

The results pages will also feature slide shows of images from the destination. And a search for events in the city will bring up a summary of events that can be filtered by date, category, and so on.

Bing also has improvements to its preview feature that brings up summary text and related links to the right of the main result. The preview will now contain a thumbnail of the destination page, as well as contact info extracted from the web page and broken out into its own area.

For improvements to Bing Maps, see Page 2.

Bing Maps has also received an overhaul, giving it some useful features, albeit ones that Google Maps already had.

Chief among them are draggable routes: when you ask for directions and get a map, you can drag the blue line to change your route. The directions, distance, and estimated time will change accordingly.

Furthermore, the same kind of semantic technology that enables Bing to extract contact numbers from a Web page enables Maps to understand natural language commands to some degree. For example, you can enter "San Francisco to Sacramento" in the search box and get driving directions between the two cities.

Similarly, typing "Chicago traffic" into the search box will bring up the traffic conditions for that city.

Other new features include the ability to embed Bing maps into a Web page, and a full-range zoom bar without preset levels of magnification.

The Bing Maps blog also brags that the default home page is only 484kb, down from 678kb, enabling it to load much faster. The Maps engine has also been distributed to seven data centers around the world, which should further speed up its responsiveness.


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