Will Visual Search Be Microsoft Bing's Big Thing?

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Using Visual Search, users can opt to "visualize" their search queries using a button on Bing's main page, and then are presented with thumbnail images of what they're searching. So far, Bing Visual Search, which users can try out here, is limited to 50 specific visual searches, including digital cameras, popular TV shows, cell phones, NFL and MLB players, and the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

Microsoft unveiled the feature at Tech Crunch 50, a conference in San Francisco, and said it will be adding more visual searches, as well as integrating Visual Search into Bing fully by the end of September. The visuals are powered by Microsoft's Silverlight.

Bing has been slow to eat into the enormous Internet search market share commanded by Google, but according to most researchers, Microsoft has made incremental gains in overall search share thanks to Bing.

New research released Monday from The Nielsen Company said Microsoft's share of U.S. search -- the combined results for MSN, Windows Live and Bing -- increased by 22.1 percent month over month in August, with Bing's share increasing from 9 percent in July to 10.7 percent in August.

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Google still dwarfs that number, of course -- Nielsen puts Google at a 64.6 percent share, growing at a 2.6 percent rate month to month -- but the results make Bing the fastest-growing search provider among the top 10. (Yahoo commands a 16 percent share, Nielsen said, but was down 4.2 percent month over month.)

However small its gains, Microsoft and its Bing engine have to be getting Google's attention, even if Google insisted a few weeks back that Caffeine, which is Google's new search engine architecture, currently in beta test, was not developed as a response to Microsoft's Bing or any other potential challenger.