Web 2.0 Summit: Microsoft avoids Bing for Mobile talk

Exec shifts expected focus to talk about competing with search giant Google

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Possibly the most noteworthy thing to come out of Microsoft product planning director Stefan Weitz's keynote at the Web 2.0 Summit this morning was what he didn't talk about.

While conference officials had been touting Microsoft's plan to preview Bing for Mobile during the presentation, Weitz opened his speech by disclosing that he wouldn't be talking about the upcoming iteration of the Bing search engine for mobile devices. And for the most part, he kept his word.

Only at the end of the presentation did Weitz turn to mobile technologies and about a future when a video camera inside a mobile phone could be used to scan stores, buildings or famous places and get pertinent information. For instance, he said that one could one day wave a mobile phone in front of Pete's Coffee shop and immediately get a rating for the coffee. Then the user can use the device to compare that rating to one for the coffee sold in his hotel.

"Mobile has tremendous legs and it's very exciting," he said.

Starting off his presentation, though, Weitz talked about issues surrounding the building of a new search engine, or decision engine as Microsoft likes to call Bing, in a market dominated by rival and search behemoth Google.

"There's a competitor in place. They're pretty good. They have good share. When you're the number three player, how do you break through?" said Weitz. "When a competitor has a lot of mind share ... people don't necessarily think they need another [search engine], how are we going to get any traction?"

Microsoft unveiled its Bing search tool in June in the hopes of giving Google some competition. And Bing, which replaced the unpopular Microsoft Live Search engine, has already shown some strength, grabbing enough market share to to sit in third place behind Yahoo in second. Google owns more than 60% of the market, according to multiple researchers.

Analysts generally say that while Bing isn't keeping Google executives up at night, it is giving them something to think about.

Despite facing the daunting and expensive challenge of going up against Google, Weitz told attendees that Microsoft was drawn to the business by a constantly steady increase in Internet searches. Between February 2008 and February 2009 the search business grew by 8%, according to Weitz. He said the rate of growth is impressive considering that search is second only to e-mail in online activity.

Weitz said that Microsoft engineers focused on the results of a survey he said found that only 65% of people said are satisfied with the results of their searches. "What is causing a third of people to be really unsatisfied with search today?" he asked. Weitz didn't identify who undertook the survey or how many people were polled.

"The actual success rate for people doing these queries is actually quite low," said Weitz. "When you stop and think through the things that you do that aren't answered by a single result, there is a lot of ping pong of search. People do a search, get to the results page, click on a link, realize it's not the link they wanted and then go back. Twenty-five percent of clicks lead to a 'back' click."

Weitz said in moving ahead, the Bing team is focusing on augmenting results with more information and more visual results. Just last month, Microsoft gave Bing a beta version of Visual Search, which is designed to let users search through galleries of images.

"There's a lot of headroom in search," he added. "When we know you're looking for an artist or a city, how can we augment that information that we can crawl across the web? How can we give you better answers?"

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