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Microsoft gives Bing visual search

Beta limited to specific topics

Microsoft has improved its Bing search engine with Visual Search, which it hopes will rival Google when it comes to searching the web for images.

Microsoft said at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco that Visual Search is designed to let users search through galleries of images.

"How many times have you seen a movie trailer and forgotten the name of it the next day? You go online to search for it but you can't seem to find the movie with 'what's-his-name' in it anywhere but you can picture the actor in your head?" said Todd Schwartz, a group product manager at Microsoft, in a blog.

"Now to find that movie you were looking for, click on 'Movies' and scroll through the imagery to find 'what's-his-name'. Now that you found it, hover your mouse over the movie to view details including title, rating, reviews, and how much it grossed at the box office, all right under the search box."

With Visual Search, Microsoft may have added a feature to Bing that gives it a leg up on Google in their ongoing search war.

"This is a big advance," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

"If the technology works as well as we're hearing so far, [Visual Search] should give Microsoft some formidable ammunition to use against Google in the search wars."

Olds said humans process visuals faster than text and when we're looking for something specific, it's much, much faster to pick what we want out of a group of pictures versus lines of text describing the pictures.

"If Microsoft delivers true visual search capabilities, this is something that might close the gap between them and Google in both search and advertising revenue."

But the beta release is limited to a specific set of topics - such as movies, celebrities, music, politicians and sports - and is by no means comprehensive, Olds added.

"Bing may have pulled ahead in the short term with visual search, but it's not a home run," he said.

"Early reports say that the Visual Search is limited to a specific set of topics. This isn't dynamic visual searching but it is a great feature and a potential game changer if Microsoft can quickly expand their capabilities. If they can do that, then they have a good shot at pulling users away from Google for at least some searches."

Microsoft and Google have been going head-to-head in the search arena for months now.

In June, Microsoft released Bing, the long-awaited upgrade to its Live Search tool. And then in late July, Microsoft and Yahoo signed an agreement to work together to better take on Google.

The proposed alliance could give the two companies some much-needed leverage in their ongoing efforts to chip away at Google's stranglehold on the search market. The plan calls for Bing to power Yahoo's sites, while Yahoo sells premium search advertising services for both companies.

Analysts say that even if regulators allow the partnership to go forward, though, Microsoft and Yahoo still face a difficult task in taking on Google.

Thus coming out with a search feature that's now unavailable on Google's sites is a move that could at least begin to drag users away from Google.

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See also: Bing 2.0 & thin laptops revealed at MS meeting


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