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Channel 4 raises Bing word-extinction alarm

UK TV channel forecasts end of language

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Roll over Wittgenstein, Channel 4 has a bold claim to make, thanks to New Media guru Benjamin Cohen. It's trumpeted in what must be the weirdest press release we've received in years - or at least since the Blooks one.

We reproduce it in full, trying to give you a flavour of the insane typography:

PLEASE CREDIT CHANNEL 4 NEWS ONLINE WITH ALL MATERIAL USED

CAN BING SEARCH MAKE WORDS EXTINCT?

CHANNEL 4 NEWS ONLINE SPEAKS EXCLUSIVELY TO STEFAN WEITZ

In an exclusive interview today with Channel 4 News Online, self-proclaimed "search evangelist" Stefan Weitz, who is tasked with luring web users away from Google to rival, Microsoft's Bing.com, says that he believes the way we use the web is set to radically change as the "search experience" goes three-dimensional.

He told Channel 4 News Online: "Search today just isn't where it needs to be. Only one in four searches actually has a satisfactory outcome on the first attempt. You should expect better results, richer results."

He explained: "Now we're entering the last stage of this decade, people are using search engines to make fairly complex decisions, which is really bizarre when you think about how they began. 10 years ago it was simply a directory, now people are trying to figure out the best flight prices using a general purpose search engine.

"What we're seeing in this evolution is about understanding what the user is trying to do, and what is the best interface we can provide for them to do that. The last piece is presenting the results not as simply more links, but as knowledge that we've either licensed from a provider or knowledge we've calculated from our huge computer resource.

"The whole point of search is to find something you don't know about, so why do we expect you to know it? We should help you on that journey."

The rise of microblogging site Twitter is another key area into which Bing's developers have moved in their quest for a "3D search" tool where users are present at both ends of the process - as searchers and content providers.

Mr Weitz said: "The problem with Twitter is there is just so much [information]. It's very noisy. With Bing Twitter search we have access to all public tweets, in real-time. We are bubbling up the most tweeted articles from across the web.

"At the top we have the real-time tweets coming in. Beneath that we have the top articles on a particular keyword. Beneath each article we pull in the most reputable tweets about that article. We calculate the reputation on how often people tweet, how often they're tweeting spam, how often they're re-tweeted.

"We're trying to bring up the most popular articles and what the most prolific Twitterers are saying about those articles, so it's a very different experience."

The concept of "3D searching" has already been brought into the mainstream by Google Streetview, which allows users to view maps at street level. Bing's creators are hoping their "visual search" will create a similar experience in areas such as online shopping, perhaps to the exclusion of keywords altogether.

"There are some types of searches which are better served in a more visual interface. People are able to process visual cues about 28 per cent faster than text descriptions alone. Our minds work pictorially," Weitz explained.

"When you have 2,000 items, like handbags or cameras or TVs, the ability for a person to flip through [visual] results as well as structured data, like prices, is still a search but not necessarily what we think of as a search. We think that's a different experience that works better there than a bunch of links."

It is not yet clear whether Bing's innovations can pull the mousemat from beneath Google's domination of the search market. But the possibilities are plentiful and perhaps by 2020 we will be mocking the quaintness of "visual search", while "taste searching" our weekly food shop.


So will Bing makes words obsolete? The Reg says: No. ®

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