Bing Adds Lackluster Twitter Search Features


Most people consider Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) the search engine king, a company that is constantly building, rebuilding, and changing the algorithms that deliver the most relevant results to any term a user places in the search box. There’s one concept that, if properly executed, could change Google’s dominance, and competing search engine Bing just had — and missed — an opportunity to take advantage of it.

VentureBeat reports that Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing today expanded its partnership with Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) to enable users to search trending hashtags, Twitter handles, and tweets about celebrities. According to a post on the Bing blog, the search engine will automatically display matching hashtags before users finish typing them in. When performing a search without a hashtag, Bing takes into account a number of factors in deciding whether a tweet is relevant to the search term:

The central idea behind the approach is that the most interesting content on Twitter can be determined by a combination of a tweet’s popularity, its freshness and the authority of the user tweeting it. We look at a number of signals including tweet quality, retweet count, freshness of tweet, user profile info, and verified status, among others. Placing these signals in our model, we serve what we hope are top quality tweets.

Searching for a hashtag will display the top results for the hashtag. Searching for a Twitter handle will show top matching suggestions, and additional information will display when users hover over a handle, in order to help them determine which is the one they’re looking for. Search results will also show which accounts are verified, giving users further confidence that they’ve found the correct handle. The post gives the example of searching for Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter handle, and then demonstrates how a general search for results on Ashton Kutcher — not for his Twitter handle — will include relevant tweets directly in the search results.

The update builds on a deal signed in November of 2013, when Microsoft and Twitter agreed to bring tweets to related Bing searches. At the time, a post on the Bing blog read: “At Bing, we believe that for every search there is somebody out there who can help. That’s why we have been teaming up with Twitter for a few years to surface public tweets from people who may have something to contribute to what you’re trying to get done with Bing.”

VentureBeat aptly terms Bing “the Pepsi of search engines,” and says that while the exclusive deal does yield features that are unique to Bing, and not available from a competitor like Google, the feature could be considered superfluous. Twitter has its own search engine, which tempts users with the proposition: “See what’s happening right now.” It’s possible that Bing’s surfacing of tweets and Twitter handles even relies on Twitter’s existing search engine, instead of adding new functionality.

So why is this a missed opportunity? Social search takes a users’ social graph into account when it display the results of a search. Each user sees different results, based on who’s in his or her network. If Bing were to build a search structure that’s different from the one that Twitter has in place — one that could factor in a user’s contacts, or the people he follows on Twitter — it would have a product that differs substantially from the search engine that Twitter already has in place.

Twitter’s search functionality has traditionally been criticized for a lack of capability of pulling up older tweets or tweets within a specific date range. It’s unclear if the results that display on Bing will enable users to go beyond what’s trending at the moment. From the Bing blog post, it sounds like the feature will focus on surfacing results that are popular and current, and so far it doesn’t look likely that the partnership will see Bing developing an easier way to access older tweets. PCWorld writes: “While it has been easy to discover current tweets and trending topics, it’s much more difficult to go back to say, the last World Cup four years ago, and re-discover what fans were talking about. And that apparently won’t change.”

So while the ability to find trending tweets and hashtags right from a Bing search is a good feature for regular users of Bing, it doesn’t add a whole lot of value to Microsoft’s search engine. Bing also missed an opportunity to add something that Google hasn’t mastered yet — social search — and the new Twitter integration probably won’t get anyone in the Google search camp to switch sides.

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