Microsoft Wants Bing To Read Users' Minds

Microsoft knows it's far behind Google in keyword search, and so it's focusing on infusing Bing with technology that determines what users are after when they search for information. One example is Quick Tabs, which injects links for weather, events, and maps when a user searches for a specific city or country. The idea is predict user intent and enable them to find what they're looking for more quickly than they can on Google.

In the next couple of months, Microsoft will test new Bing designs that move Quick Tabs from the left side navigation to a more visible spot at the top of the page, wrote Todd Schwartz, group product manager at Microsoft, in a Thursday blog post.

"We think this approach is a better way for Bing to anticipate user intent and adapt both the page and the results to help make faster, more informed decisions," Schwartz wrote.

Microsoft also sees map visualization functionality as a key Bing differentiator. On Thursday, Microsoft showed off Map Apps, a new application that channels location data from partners into Bing Maps.

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One such partner is foursquare, a mobile social networking startup whose users 'check in' at various locations, receive location-relevant recommendations for things to do, and then rate their experience as they would with Yelp.

With the foursquare Map App in Bing Maps, users can plan activities in their own cities or while they're traveling, according to Schwartz. "It's like an interactive day planner, designed to help find the best things to do in that area. And if you have questions, you can always contact users through foursquare to get the inside scoop," he wrote.

If user intent is the main competitive angle Microsoft plans to use to carve away at Google's search dominance, the software giant will have to be patient.

Bing's market share has increased every month since its launch, but recent gains have been slow. According to comscore Bing's market share grew from 11.3 in January to 11.5 in February. Although Google's share grew just 0.1 percent during the period, Yahoo's dropped from 17 percent to 16.8 percent.

Earlier this month Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company has a "fair degree of realism" about its ability to unseat Google from the top spot in search in the near term, but also suggested that Microsoft does think it's capable of doing so "someday."