Microsoft’s Bing now relies on Wolfram Alpha to answer some of its users’ questions. This is not a full integration of Wolfram Alpha into Bing, though. Instead, Bing only gets answers for queries about nutrition and math problems from Alpha. A query for “french fries” will still result in the standard search results page with a list of links, but a new compute tab in the left sidebar will open up results from Wolfram Alpha. Bing now also uses Alpha to compute queries related to Body Mass Index (BMI). In addition to this Wolfram Alpha integration, Bing now also features improved hover previews with Facebook integration and full page weather results.
Update: in our briefing and later emails with Microsoft, the company told us that the integration with Wolfram Alpha would only consist on exchanging data about nutrition and that was reflected in the first version of this post. In today’s blog post, however, Microsoft also announced that it will display math results from Alpha. We have updated this post accordingly.
Bing tries to get users to the answers they are looking for faster than any other search engines and these new updates are all geared towards making things even easier for users.
Wolfram Alpha Integration: That’s It?
We first learned about the integration with Alpha during a briefing with Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s Director of Bing, a few months ago. At that time, it was just a screenshot of Wolfram Alpha pasted onto the Bing interface. Rumors about this integration flared up in August, but anybody who expected a full integration between the two is bound to be disappointed by today’s announcement.
We can’t help but wonder if the two teams aren’t working on a deeper integration, though. Getting better information about nutrition and solutions to math problems in Bing is nice, but this is only a minor part of Alpha’s feature set. Microsoft’s vision for Bing is compatible with Wolfram’s idea of Alpha as a ‘computational knowledge engine.’ The improved hover previews that Microsoft announced today go into a similar direction and Microsoft could potentially use the real estate in these preview boxes to showcase other results from Alpha in the future.
Smarter Hover Previews
Hover previews are not new to Bing. In the current version, the little pop-ups that appear when a user hovers the mouse over the right-hand side of a search result only show a short excerpt from the page. The new previews use entity extraction to get information from the page that is related to the query. For businesses and restaurants, the new preview now also filters out information like street addresses, email addresses and phone numbers.
When a Facebook page appears in the search results, Bing will now show the person’s picture and users can see their networks and send a message or friend request from the preview box.
The new preview box also shows a screenshot of the page and a list of popular links on that site. In addition, the preview now features another search box that allows users to quickly do a search within that particular site.
Bing now always displays weather information in the search results when it discovers a query for a town or city. Clicking on the link above the icon now takes users to a separate page with comprehensive weather information inside the Bing interface. The full page weather results show forecasts, satellite maps and historical averages.
But there is More…
This is clearly a busy week for Microsoft’s Bing team and according to a Microsoft spokesperson, these are only some of the updates to Bing that Microsoft has planned for this week.
Earlier updates this week included a number of changes to Bing Reference, which uses the technology Microsoft acquired from Powerset to semantically index Wikipedia. This feature can be accessed from the ‘references’ tab in the sidebar. We also wrote about Microsoft’s new interface and features from Bing Maps yesterday morning. Later in the day, Microsoft also updated its video search, which now uses embeds to show videos from a wide variety of sites like Hulu, ABC and YouTube right on the Bing search results page.
According to the latest data from Hitwise, Bing’s market share in the US grew 7% last month and is now at 9.57%. While the current Wolfram Alpha integration won’t bring new users to Bing, it does showcase that Microsoft is willing to try new things with Bing and we can only hope that this is just the beginning of a deeper integration between the two – though for the time being, this is a one-sided integration as Wolfram is still using Google as the fall-back search engine on Wolfram Alpha.