Facebook Inc has discontinued including results from Microsoft Corp’s Bing search engine on its social networking site.
The move, confirmed by a company spokesperson, comes as Facebook has revamped its own search offerings, introducing a tool on Monday that allows users to quickly find past comments and other information posted by their friends on Facebook.
The decision may reflect the increasing importance that Facebook sees in Web search technology, a market dominated by rival Google Inc.
Searches on Facebook have long been geared toward helping users connect with friends and to find other information that exists within the walls of the 1.35 billion-user social networking service. But for years, Facebook’s search results also included links to standalone websites that were provided by Bing.
“We’re not currently showing web search results in Facebook Search because we’re focused on helping people find what’s been shared with them on Facebook,” a company spokesperson told Reuters. “We continue to have a great partnership with Microsoft in lots of different areas.”
Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has flagged search as one of the company’s key growth initiatives, noting in July that there were more than 1 billion search queries occurring on Facebook every day and hinting that the vast amount of information that users share within Facebook could eventually replace the need to search the Web for answers to certain questions.
“There is more than a trillion posts, which some of the search engineers on the team like to remind me, is bigger than any Web search corpus out there,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call with analysts in July.
Microsoft’s Bing is the No.2 Web search provider in the U.S., with a nearly 20 percent share of the market according to industry research firm comScore.
Facebook and Microsoft have a longstanding relationship dating back to Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook, for a 1.6 percent stake in the company, in October 2007. As part of that deal, Microsoft provided banner ads on Facebook’s website in international markets.
Stefan Weitz, who leads Microsoft’s search efforts, told an audience at the Web Summit conference in Dublin that he’s less interested in Bing as a stand-alone search engine and more interested in integrating the technology into the company’s other products.
“The question is, where is search really going?” Weitz said, according to areport in The Register. “It’s unlikely we’re going to take share in [the pure search] space, but in machine learning, natural language search… and how we can make search more part of living. For us, it’s less about Bing.com, though that’s still important. It’s really about how we can instead weave the tech into things you’re already doing.”
By integrating search into different applications, Microsoft should be able to grab more search market share in the future, Weitz said, according to The Register.
“For pure keyword search, we’re around 30% in the U.S. — not so much in Europe,” he said. “But search in different areas of life? That mix is to be determined. I’m committed to making sure we have our fair share of search in the future.”
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, toldComputerworld that Microsoft would be smart to focus less on a head-to-head competition with Google search and more on working Bing-based technology into Windows products.
“At the end of the day that isn’t a battle that can be fought right now,” Shimmin said. “It’s a matter of how inured we are with Google. It’s now become the, ‘Pass me a Coke or hand me a Kleenex.’ Our cultural norm has evolved around Google. It’s not just a search engine. It’s a knowledge engine that helps you find your way home or what time the Dodgers play.”
Five years after Microsoft released Bing, the search engine has not been the challenger to Google that Microsoft hoped it would be. While Bing hasn’t gained significant market share in those five years, it still remains second in search only to Google.
Earlier this year, Internet tracker comScore Inc. reported that Google still held 67.5% of the search market, while Bing had 18.6% and Yahoo, 10.1%.
The Google Express service, which was earlier only available in certain parts of California and New York City, will be expanded to Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C., Google said in a blog.
Membership for the service, which was earlier called Google Shopping Express, will cost $95 a year, or $10 a month.
Online retailer Amazon’s same-day delivery service, called Prime, charges customers $99 per year, after a free one-year trial.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, at a public speech made in Berlin on Monday, called Amazon its “biggest search competitor”, the Financial Times and other media reported.
“Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” the FT quoted Schmidt as saying.
Schmidt said internet users are likely to go directly to the retailer if they are shopping.
As the company tries to revive MSN, the focus this time is also on top content from the Web instead of offering original content. For the relaunch, the company has signed up with over 1,300 publishers worldwide including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yomiuri, CNN and The Guardian.
A “Services Stripe” at the top of the MSN homepage gives users easy access to personal services including Outlook.com email, OneDrive, Office 365 and Skype, as well as popular third-party sites like Twitter and Facebook, according to an online preview launched by Microsoft on Sunday.
The new MSN also provides “actionable information” and content and personal productivity tools such as shopping lists, a savings calculator, a symptom checker, and a 3D body explorer. Readers will have access to content from 11 sections including sports, news, health and fitness, money, travel and video, wrote Frank Holland, corporate vice president of Microsoft Advertising, in a blog post.
The company said it has rebuilt MSN from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. The new MSN helps people complete their key digital tasks across all of their devices, wrote Brian MacDonald, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for information and content experiences, in a blog post.
“Information and personalized settings are roamed through the cloud to keep users in the know wherever they are,” MacDonald added. Users worldwide can try out the new MSN preview.
In the coming months, Microsoft plans to release MSN apps across iOS and Android to complement its corresponding Windows and Windows Phone apps. “You only need to set your favorites once, and your preferences will be connected across MSN, Cortana, Bing and other Microsoft experiences,” MacDonald wrote.
Microsoft claims an audience of more than 437 million people across 50 countries for MSN.
MSN.com ranks number 26 among the top sites in the U.S., behind Microsoft’s own Bing site, Google’s search site, YouTube, Facebook and Yahoo’s portal, according to traffic estimates by Alexa.
National Security Agency (NSA) has its own homegrown search engine that it offers to similarly minded US intelligence outfits.
Website the Intercept was first to report this and attributes its news to information provided by whistleblowers. It said that the search engine is shared with a number of other US organisations and institutions.
The search tool is called ICREACH, according to the report, and has been available and in use for some years.
Documents gathered by the Intercept show the system in use in 2007, and calls the information that it offers “wholesale sharing”. The news website reports that the system is capable of handling two to five billion new records every day, and makes sense of email, phone call, fax, internet and text message metadata. It can also share location information culled from mobile phones.
“The ICREACH team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the US Intelligence Community,” (IC) the report notes.
“This team began over two years ago with a basic concept compelled by the IC’s increasing need for communications metadata and NSA’s ability to collect, process and store vast amounts of communications metadata related to worldwide intelligence targets.”
We asked the NSA to comment on this, and it said that intelligence sharing is an important security feature and has been for some time.
“The appropriate and prudent sharing of information is a pillar of the post-9/11 Intelligence Community (IC),” the NSA said. According to the spy agency, the US Congress and two US administrations have requested that data and information not get “stove-piped” within separate US intelligence agencies.
“By allowing other IC organisations to query legally collected foreign-intelligence repositories of appropriately minimised data, analysts can develop vital intelligence leads without requiring access to raw intelligence collected by other IC agencies. The highest priority of the Intelligence Community is to work within the constraints of law to collect, analyse and understand information related to potential threats to our national security,” the NSA said.
The company said the new functionality makes using Bing more like “having a conversation.”
It lets you ask questions sequentially that build off each other, so you don’t have to keep repeating the topic you’re asking about.
For instance, if you ask Bing, ”Who wrote Dracula”? “Bram Stoker” pops up at the top of the screen. You can then ask, “Where was he born,” and it gives the answer “Dublin, Ireland.”
Microsoft said it answers the questions by combining “conversational understanding” with its database of knowledge about people, places and things.
It comes as Bing’s largest competitor, Google, is working to make its own search engine better at understanding queries in natural language.
Google also has a conversational search mode that works in a similar way, though currently it only works when doing voice searches in Chrome and in Google’s mobile search app.
Bing’s new feature works well, and you can take the questions far. After asking about Bram Stoker “Where was he born,” you can also ask, “When did he die?” Answer: April 20, 1912. Or, “How did he die?” Syphilis. (But, asking simply “how?” did not work as well.)
In Bing, the feature works on the desktop as well as on mobile devices.
Microsoft has worked to make Bing more useful over the years, partly by integrating a wider range of information from outside sources into results. Data from social sites like Twitter and Facebook plays a part in this, as well as data from services like IMDB and Netflix.
Earlier this year Bing expanded its index of the Web to include more information about professionals like doctors, lawyers and real estate.
With nearly 70 percent market share in the U.S., Google is still by far the dominant player in search, according to comScore. Microsoft’s Bing has just under 20 percent share.
But Bing’s new feature could give it a leg up against Google when it comes to search, at least for now.
The satellite will be blasted into space on an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Wednesday morning in a launch that has extra significance given a recent U.S. government decision to relax rules regarding the resolution of images that can be sold to companies like Google and Microsoft.
At present, commercial satellite operators are prohibited from selling images with a resolution better than 50 centimeters to customers other than the U.S. government, but with the launch of WorldView 3 that’s changing. From early 2015, the limit will be reduced to 30 centimeters, which is a fraction finer than the 31 centimeters that WorldView 3 can manage.
The change should mean better quality images on services like Google Earth and Bing Maps, and will also help DigitalGlobe’s other customers.
“Our imagery is used by a lot of state and local governments for urban planning,” said Kumar Navulur, director of next generation products at DigitalGlobe. He said the images are used to survey things like back yard swimming pools, but that’s not all.
The satellites capture images in visible and infrared light and these latter ones can be used to monitor the environment.
For example, one of the sensors can see the presence of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plants and trees. By monitoring over time, an early warning of disease can be picked up. Trees tend to lose their chlorophyll as they are stressed and Navulur said the satellite’s sensor will detect that long before it’s obvious through color changes visible to the eye.
WorldView 3 adds new sensors that capture eight additional infrared bands, some of them useful to energy companies in the exploration of oil and gas, and to geological research. The satellite should also allow analysts to map not just the presence of trees but the type of tree — something that’s useful when figuring out the benefits of forests on carbon output.
The sensors also allow the company to monitor the presence of water vapor, aerosols, clouds, ice and snow in the sky — something that can be used to perform accurate color correction so images taken under different conditions have a more consistent look.
DigitalGlobe counts the U.S. government as its most important customer. That includes the U.S. military which, even though it has satellites of its own capable of even greater resolution, turns to DigitalGlobe for images that will be shared with allies or the public.
The Redmond firm’s researchers have developed Herehere, a complaint cataloguer, and launched it on the hardboiled streets of New York, New York. The firm reckoned that over time it will build up a view of the community.
Microsoft said that “hyperlocal engagement” would “encourage civic response”. We think that it might put people off certain areas and funnel others to other locations. Microsoft has provided an image to suggest how this manifests itself. We learn that somewhere has “no asbestos issues” somewhere else does not feel safe, and another location has bad traffic.
“Herehere NYC introduces daily neighbourhood engagement with a light touch,” said Kati London, head of the Herehere project.
“It takes neighborhood-specific public data, and it enables the neighbourhoods to communicate how they’re doing-expressed through text and cartoonlike icons.
“People can receive the information via a daily email digest, neighborhood-specific Twitter feeds, or status updates on an online map. We want to understand how it changes or impacts the way people relate to their community when they can interact with data in this way.
“Think of it as a meta-status update for the day – a simplification of issues in your neighbourhood compressed into a text that you might get from a friend,” added London.
There are 42 New York City locations covered, and the firm thinks that it will boil down the mood of the city into a digestible format with a friendly, occasionally ratlike, face. The data is culled from the 311 phone number in New York City, which is the state’s contact number for non-emergency communications.
“The idea is that we are inundated with all kinds of data in our lives, and it’s overwhelming. Characterisation helps bring immediacy and a human scale to information,” said London.
“When the Lower East Side says it’s totally cool with a few vermin complaints, we’re giving a human voice to the neighborhood which, hopefully, will stimulate conversations about issues.”
Tweets have been featured prominently in Bing for a few years, as part of Microsoft’s effort to incorporate plenty of information from sites like Twitter, Facebook and Klout. With a smaller market share, the search engine is far from beating Google but hopes to attract more users by weaving in more social data.
“Whether it’s a politician, celebrity, thought leader or friend, our renewed partnership with Twitter ensures that you have near real-time access to what people are tweeting tailored to what you’re searching for,” Microsoft said in a brief blog post Friday. It didn’t say how long the partnership has been renewed for.
Google is the market leader in search with nearly 67 percent share in the U.S., according to a September comScore ranking. Microsoft was a distant second with roughly 18 percent share, while Yahoo, which uses Bing on the back end, came in third at about 11 percent.
Microsoft gave Bing a makeover of sorts in September. Along with a new look, it created a new results view that merges social posts with factual information about people, places and things.
Competition between Twitter and rivals like Microsoft, Google and Facebook is likely to heat up once the social network goes public on the New York Stock Exchange. But, “we also depend in part on Internet search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, to drive traffic to our website,” Twitter said in its IPO documents.
For now, Google sits safely at the top, reigning as it has for many years as the most popular search engine. In August, people in the U.S. ran 66.9 percent of their search queries on Google, while Microsoft ranked a distant second with a 17.9 percent share, according to comScore. Yahoo, which uses Bing as its back-end engine, came in third with 11.4 percent.
But a new logo, a remade interface and improved search features signal “the beginning of a new, more modern era for Bing,” wrote Lawrence Ripsher, Bing’s user experiences general manager, in the blog post.
Greg Sterling, an analyst with Opus Research, said the changes to Bing are unlikely to boost significantly its market share. “But over time Bing could see gains as it continues to build on some of these enhancements,” he said via email.
One of the main changes is the merging of two features — Snapshot and Sidebar — which were introduced last year. Snapshot provides factual, structured information about people, places and things, while Sidebar mines users’ social media accounts to deliver relevant information posted by their contacts on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
“In our new design, we’ve combined these two sources of knowledge to provide people with all the supporting context they’ll need for any given query,” Ripsher wrote.
An entirely new feature is Page Zero, which attempts to resolve a query while the user is still typing it, by displaying links, information and actions on the fly before the first page of results appears.
“We think the time people will save using Page Zero instead of navigating a search results page will be significant,” he wrote.
Also new is Pole Position, a set of links and answers displayed prominently and in a larger format at the top of the results page that appear when Bing is highly confident it understands a query’s intent.
The new tools represent yet another expansion of the Microsoft search site to make it more interactive and useful as the company seeks to distinguish itself from Google search.
In March Bing expanded its center column to incorporate more social information from Facebook, Twitter and Klout into how it displays search results involving people. In January its right-hand Social Sidebar was scaled out to include more content from users’ Facebook friends such as status updates, shared links and comments.
Previously, users could see that content, but could not interact with it without leaving the Bing site. But with the latest expansion, they can.
“Now you can see what your friends might know about what you’re searching for and engage with them directly without leaving the search page,” Bing said last Friday in a blog post.
As an example, if a person is searching for tickets to a Beyonce concert, and a friend posted on Facebook that she has an extra ticket, the person could comment directly on the post on the Bing site to let the friend know that he would like to join her for the concert, Bing said.
The person has to be signed into Facebook for the feature to work. The tool honors the user’s account settings and won’t share any information without the person’s approval, Bing said.
There does not appear to be any restriction on how old the Facebook posts can be.
The feature’s focus is on surfacing the most relevant information for the searcher, but on average the technology looks at roughly two years’ worth of Facebook data for each person, a Microsoft spokesperson said.
For instance, searching for the just-released film “The Great Gatsby” displayed Facebook posts from as far back as 2011, some of which did not even refer to the recent Hollywood adaptation of the book.
The flow of information between Bing and Facebook goes both ways. In January Facebook announced the beta launch of Graph Search, a social search tool designed to let users discover a wider range of information across the social network. When there are holes in the Graph Search results, information from Bing will be weaved in, Facebook said.
Bing originally rolled out its right-hand Social Sidebar last year, and since then “we’ve been exploring ways to make it more useful,” the site said last Friday.
Microsoft has rolled out a major update to its Azure cloud computing service and said that it will match Amazon on price.
Last year Microsoft announced it would preview a host of changes to its Azure cloud computing service including new virtual machine configurations, a virtual private network and a new Azure software development kit. Now the firm has taken those features out of preview and made them generally available in what it is promoting as the largest single update to Windows Azure to date.
Since Microsoft announced most of the features in its “hybrid cloud” last June, the firm said the only changes from the preview release to today’s public release are higher memory capacity and higher performance compute nodes. However the firm touted its Windows Azure Virtual Network as a way for customers to view cloud based services as if those were located on their premises.
Microsoft couldn’t rely on features alone to take the fight to Amazon and its Web Services division. Amazon’s cloud service is the biggest rival to Microsoft Azure and has a reputation for cutting prices aggressively. Now Microsoft has said it will do the same in a bid “to take the price discussion off the table”.
Michael Newberry, Windows Azure lead at Microsoft UK said that companies are in a process of moving applications that presently reside on servers located in the office onto the cloud. He said, “It is important that we get them through the process, price shouldn’t be a barrier for the customer to choose the best cloud provider.
“At the end of the day it should be about different technical facilities, what is the right environment for a particular workload, a particular application scenario. And that’s why we wanted to take the price discussion off the table and say ‘look, we know prices are changing and this is a market that is developing, but lets make this about the best environment, the best architecture, the best cloud environment for your particular customer.”
Newberry said that Microsoft’s Windows Azure service will appeal to those customers who want to make use of existing applications rather than develop ones specifically for cloud deployment. He said, “With customers who have existing infrastructure, existing applications, existing datacenters, that’s not something they want to throwaway. They still want to take advantage of cloud technologies, either in terms of private cloud, or using the public cloud as a spiking mechanism – an overflow if you will – for their existing on premise environment.”
Microsoft has also started to offer support for Linux on its Azure cloud service. Newberry said customers should have no problem running open source software or Linux on its services. However the firm does see its Windows Azure cloud service being particularly enticing for those firms that already run their network infrastructure services using Microsoft’s software, such as Active Directory, SQL Server and Sharepoint.
With Microsoft saying it will match Amazon’s pricing, the cloud provider industry might start to see a focus on performance rather than simply competing on low prices to attract customers.
Speaking at the US technology conference on Monday, Wolfram predicted that his analytics engine will soon work pre-emptively, meaning it will be able to predict what its users are looking for.
“Wolfram Alpha will be able to predict what users are looking for,” Wolfram said. “Imagine that combined with augmented reality.”
Speaking during a talk on the future of computation, Stephen Wolfram – the creator of Wolfram Alpha and the mastermind behind Apple’s Siri personal assistant – also showed off the engine’s new ability to analyze images.
Wolfram said, “We’re now able to bring in uploaded material, and use our algorithm to analyse it. For example, we can take a picture, ask Wolfram Alpha and it will try and tell us things about it.
“We can compute all sorts of things about this picture – and ask Wolfram Alpha to do a specific computation if need be.”
That’s not the only new feature of Wolfram Alpha, as it can also now analyse data from uploaded spreadsheet documents.
“We can also do things like uploading a spreadsheet and asking Wolfram [Alpha] to analyse specific data from it,” Wolfram said.
He added, “This is an exciting time for me, because a whole lot of things I’ve been working on for 30 years have begun converging in a nice way.”
This upload feature will be available as part of Wolfram Alpha Pro, a paid-for feature where Wolfram hopes the analytical engine will make most of its money. Wolfram Alpha Pro costs $4.99 per month, or $2.99 if you’re a student.
Wolfram also showed off Wolfram Alpha’s ability to analyse data from Facebook, a feature that was announced last August.
Facebook Inc said on Thursday it had agreed to purchase advertising technology from Microsoft Corp that measures the effectiveness of ads on its website, which should aid in its fight with Google Inc for online advertising revenue.
Under the long-rumored transaction, Facebook will purchase the Atlas Advertiser Suite, an ad management and measurement platform that Microsoft took on with its $6.3 billion acquisition of digital ad agency aQuantive in 2007. Facebook did not say how much it paid for the technology.
Unable to make it work for its own purposes, Microsoft wrote off $6.2 billion of the aQuantive deal’s value last year.
Facebook has long been dogged by doubts about the effectiveness of its ads and was embarrassed just days before its initial public offering in May when General Motors Co declared it was pulling the plug on all paid advertising on Facebook’s network.
Since then, Facebook has introduced a number of tools and partnerships to prove to marketers that advertising on its social network delivers enough bang for the buck.
Brian Boland, Facebook’s director of monetization product marketing, said the purchase of Atlas was not a step toward creating a much wider ad network beyond the Facebook site, but analysts believe that is Facebook’s ultimate goal.
Currently Google leads the $15 billion U.S. market for online display ads with 15.4 percent share, according to researcher eMarketer, followed by Facebook with 14.4 percent.
When a person runs a query in Bing, the results include general content from the web as well as related information from social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Google+.
For instance, if a user is logged into Bing through Facebook when performing the search, Bing’s Social Sidebar is populated with related information from their Facebook friends. Bing launched the sidebar feature last summer.
Previously, the results included only the Facebook friends’ “Likes,” photos and profile information, but Microsoft has now expanded that to include status updates, shared links and comments.
The extended data amounts to a five-fold increase in Facebook friends’ content that is searchable in the sidebar, Microsoft said wrote in a blog post.
The idea is to give people more useful and personalized results. “This is a much richer set of data that not only helps show what your friends may know, but what knowledge they possess that can aid in your search,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. The Social Sidebar is currently available only to users in the U.S.
A person planning a trip to New York, for instance, can find not just information about the city, but also information from Facebook friends who have lived or visited there, Microsoft said.
The information in the sidebar from other social networks works slightly differently — it’s not linked to the person’s friends, but to other sources deemed to be experts on the topic. That functionality is not affected by today’s changes.
The new Bing features are not connected to the Graph Search announcement, according to Microsoft. But the company will “continue to power the web search functionality on Facebook,” Microsoft said.