Using Google to search for everything is so ingrained into our computer-user personas, it’s hard to imagine using anything else. Even so, Bing does offer a lot of features that make it a worthy addition to your Internet browsing toolkit, once you learn more about what the site has to offer. Here are 10 things you should know about using Bing.
Microsoft may be competing with Google by spending advertising dollars in the search universe, but it seems that the actual product has a slightly different aim. Microsoft is calling Bing a Decision Engine and positioning it as a new kind of tool, as described in this press release:
Bing is specifically designed to build on the benefits of today’s search engines but begins to move beyond this experience with a new approach to user experience and intuitive tools to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.
The next time you’re using the Web to make a decision about buying something, going somewhere, improving your health, or finding directions, give Bing a shot.
Sites such as StumbleUpon and Digg allow you to randomly find interesting Web sites based on various categories. Similarly, the Informational Hotspots embedded in the amazing images on Bing’s Home page allow you to instantly discover interesting facts simply by hovering over the hotspot (Figure A). If you want to learn more about that topic, click on the hotspot’s popup box to initiate a search.
One of the biggest downsides of investigating the results of a search operation is clicking a link only to discover that the site doesn’t contain the information you are looking for. To help alleviate unnecessary clicking, Bing has a preview feature that gives you an idea of what the site has to offer. Just move your cursor to the right of a search result and hover over the orange bullet. When you do, a preview window appears that contains the first few sentences from the site’s home page (Figure B). The preview boxes also can contain Deep Links, which are essentially links found on the main page that lead to content buried deeper in the site.
After you initiate a search operation, be sure to investigate the Explorer pane on the left side of the window for ways to refine your search. Depending on how broad your search term is, you’ll find the Quick Tabs section at the top of the Explorer pane, which automatically arranges the search results in the most common categories according to that topic — kind of like a table of contents. If you scroll down the page, you’ll also discover that the displayed results are arranged according to the categories in the Quick Tabs section. Also in the Explorer pane you’ll find a Related Searches section, which provides you with alternative, yet related searches. The Explorer pane also contains your Search History, making it easy to quickly return to a previous search.
When you search for images, you’ll encounter the Infinite Scroll feature. It basically puts all the image results on one page to reduce the amount of clicking from page to page while looking for the perfect picture. To help you quickly narrow your image search, the Explorer pane provides filters for narrowing your search results by using attributes such as size, layout, color, style, and people (Figure C). (If you are searching for an image with people in it, you can narrow to just faces or head and shoulders.) If you find an image you like, but it’s not quite what you are looking for, hover over the image and select Show Similar Images to refine your search to images that share a similar characteristic.
When you access the main Videos page, you’ll see an interface reminiscent of Windows Media Center. Featured TV shows and music videos take center stage and allow you to easily peruse the collections. Search for videos, and you’ll see the results as thumbnails. When you hover over a thumbnail, a preview of the video will begin playing. The Explorer pane provides filters for narrowing your search results by attributes such as length, screen type, resolution, and source. (Bing can pull the video from multiple sources, including MSN, AOL, MTV, ESPN, YouTube, MySpace, Daily Motion, Metacafe, and Hulu.)
If you find a really great set of search results, you know that you can always access them later in your Search History in the Explorer pane. However, you can take your search history to a new level with the Save & Share feature (Figure D). Just click the See All link in the Search History section. You can then select any search and save it to your hard drive or, if you have a Windows Live account, to your SkyDrive folder. You can even share your search results with friends and family via Windows Live, Facebook, or email.
Often, when you are searching the Internet, you’re looking for a quick answer to a question right at hand, and you don’t have time to scan thru a bunch of search results just to find it. To help you out, Bing provides a feature called Instant Answers. Using your question, a special keyword along with your search term will bring up an Instant Answer. For example, need the find the area code for Orlando? Just type Area code Orlando FL. Want to know who won a specific Super Bowl? Just type Who Won Super Bowl XXX? Need to convert currency? Just type Convert 100 dollars to pesos. Need more information on the types of Instant Answers available on Bing? Just type Help Instant Answers.
When you’re searching for a location in Bing’s Maps and find what you are looking for, you can add the location to a Collection that’s tied into to your Windows Live account. That way, when you need to find the location again, you can just open your collection and quickly access it. Just right-click on the map, select Add A Pushpin, fill in the Pushpin Properties form (Figure E), and click Save. You can then share your collection via email or your Windows Live blog.
To customize the way that Bing works, pull down the Extras menu in the upper-right and select Preferences. You can then specify the Safe Search level, set your location, choose your language, and choose the number of search results to display on a page.
If you’re a big Google fan and are not sure whether you want to rely solely on Bing, you may want to try the Bing & Google site to get the best of both worlds. Using an interesting approach, Bing & Google passes your search term to both search engines and then uses a frame-like interface to display the results side by side (Figure F).