I’m live blogging Danny’s interview with Qi Lu, head of search for Microsoft. Before the interview begins we first see one of the new Bing TV commercials, which is funny. Under the heat of the lights Danny and Qi Lu take off their outer shirts: Lu wears a Bing shirt, Danny has one one that says “Bada.” Audience laughs.
Danny says that people are reacting to Bing as though they’re discovering things like image search for the first time. He points out that Bing has both new features and features that have long been in search.
Lu is discussing how Bing is designed to help people to accomplish tasks more quickly. He explains how the search results page is organized into “Web groups.” There is substantial technological innovation behind Bing. Lu discusses how different parts of the SERP tie to user intent. But he says they want to go further into semantic understanding of intent. The search experience needs to be organized in a way to better fulfill user intent. Lu is using lots of lots of local examples in his discussion. Lu: understanding user intent is a long-term ambition that will take years, even decades.
We’re making information on SERP richer and more organized to enable users to make decisions faster.
Danny asks about what’s next. What will happen with the interface and search in general?
Lu: With scalable computing infrastructure it becomes cheaper to model user intent better and better. The overall web is getting richer, with social media, images and video. We will be able to understand user intent better over the next few years that will produce a richer experience than we have today with less emphasis on links.
Lu: We are very committed to R&D and product innovation. Where you see Bing today is a first step in a long journey.
Danny asks about visualizing data a la Wolfram Alpha. Lu says that WA is very interesting and says that Microsoft has made a big commitment to search and R&D/innovation. He promises more “advances.”
Danny asks about the differences between Lu’s job at Yahoo vs. Microsoft. Lu says his job is much broader at Microsoft. He says he’s focused on his team and trying to be clear on “where we’re heading towards; everything else doesn’t really matter.”
Danny: How did we end up with the name “Bing” in the end?
Lu: It is very important that we have a new brand that only represents search. In search one of the important success factors is to have a brand associated with search. He cites studies that show the Google brand is dominant regardless of underlying results source. He cites some international examples of strong brands for search outside the US.
We wanted something short, easy to pronounce. The brand and URL need to be connected (Microsoft didn’t own LiveSearch.com). He says that the Chinese version of the Brand means “very likely to respond.”
Danny: While Live Search has gone away, Live is still out there. What happens with these other brands?
Lu: MSN will still be there; we will continue invest in the MSN brand. The Live brand will continue because we have other Live products (e.g., Office Live, Xbox Live). Bing will be specific to search.
Danny: How has the launch been going, anything unexpected or surprising in the rollout?
Lu: We have over 20K fans on Facebook and over 16K followers on Twitter — these are very good signs. So far, so good.
Danny: The big question remains will you gain share against Google. Is the marketing enough or are there other things you may have to do if it doesn’t pick up?
Lu: We believe search is still “very nascent.” There’s a whole lot more that can be done. Ultimately being competitive in search is based on the search experience. The best product over a period of time will sell itself. More competition is good for consumers, for everybody. We will be very focused on R&D to build core technical capabilities. We will also have a global marketing effort and do things to distribute our product. Long term we have confidence to deliver a differentiated user experience. That’s the key.
Having effective go to market campaign is very important to build awareness of the product as a first step. My mindset is: how can you be two steps ahead? If you’re behind that’s OK. You know you’re behind, you have to keep focused on R&D and product innovation.
Danny: A way to jump ahead would be to acquire Yahoo’s search assets. He asks Lu to comment. What would happen if you acquired Yahoo’s search assets?
Lu: I would have to say it wouldn’t be proper for me to speculate. Will have to leave it to people’s imaginations.
Danny jokingly suggests: Yahoo search, now with Bing.
Danny: One of the hot topics is real-time search and Twitter. Do you want them? If you can’t get them, will you build your own Twitter? How important is that real-time data to Microsoft?
Lu: Recency and freshness is becoming increasingly important. Twitter activity is very exciting. He discusses the idea of harvesting the Twitter data in general terms.
Danny says Microsoft previously didn’t put search on Microsoft.com. He was critical of the company for that failure to promote search on its homepage. Lu explains that Microsoft is big company that sells a lot of different products. Lu then instructs the audience to go to Microsoft.com (Bing box at top of the page):
Mark Mahaney: How do you differentiate when the user intent is very clear? Mahaney gives “long-tail” examples.
Lu: He comes back to prior remarks about understanding intent and fulfilling intent. Effectively he doesn’t answer the question directly.
Question: What kind of tools are you going to provide to site owners and advertisers?
Lu: He says adCenter has tools, but goes back to user intent as a driver of relevance and more relevant ads. He says this will improve CTRs and ROI for advertisers.
Danny invites the audience to respond to some informal questions. How many users have tried Bing? Two-thirds of the audience raises its hands. How many of you found it better than you expected? Forty or 50 people appear to raise their hands.
How many of you are going to switch? A small number of people raise their hands. How many aren’t going to switch? Few people answer.