What Bing Does Best

Kleenex, Xerox, Aspirin, Jell-O and Google, all refer to brand names that have taken on a generic meaning. Ask for a Kleenex and you’ll get a tissue whether it’s a Kleenex or Scott. But before we confirm Google’s status, there’s a new arrival making inroads into the search engine market. Meet Bing, the new and improved Live Search, brought to you by Microsoft.

According to Experian Hitwise, Google accounted for 71 percent of all U.S. searches conducted in the four weeks ending Oct. 3, 2009. Yahoo! Search grabbed 16 percent and Bing 9 percent of searches, while the remaining 53 search engines accounted for just under 4 percent.

Though its market share is small, the five-month old Bing search service is the fastest-growing U.S. search engine among the top 10 reported by Nielsen. It is not a Google replacement and even Microsoft admits this, but it is a better search engine for specific activities: finding images and videos and buying stuff, whether that’s from a local restaurant, an online retailer, or an airline.

Bing uses more imagery in its interface than any other search engine, capitalizing on the brain’s natural inclination to attend to pictures rather than words. If you’re a visual person, you’ll like Bing.

Start on the Bing homepage and stop for a minute of sightseeing. Each day a stunning photograph from somewhere in the world occupies most of the homepage. Sure, you can go right on typing your query in the prominent search bar, but instead, roll your mouse over the image and you will find four interesting facts about the location and links to learn more. Curiosity can lead you on a fascinating detour.

Finding the right image for a report or blog post is easier on Bing. Hundreds of image results are displayed on a single page, eliminating the need for clicking endless pages. Use the left hand navigation to refine results. In a search for dog, I could narrow my search by breed, select image size and orientation, choose color over black and white, photograph over illustration, and those showing just the dog’s face.

Video searches are similarly streamlined and pull from a variety of sources including YouTube, Metacafe and MySpace. Simply run your mouse over the thumbnail to see a preview, no new page required.

Bing also delivers extra incentive as a shopping tool, offering its own cashback rewards program. From June to August, visits to Bing Shopping shot up 169 percent, making it the 4th most popular shopping comparison site on the Web behind Yahoo! Shopping, Bizrate and Shopzilla according to Hitwise, which may have had something to do with the fact Bing doubled cashback rewards in August.

With the integration of travel search engine Farecast, Bing not only serves up the best airfares, but offers another exclusive: Bing predicts whether the price of a ticket is likely to go up or down over the next week, it’s the stockbroker of travel. When booking a trip to DC, Bing advised I wait because fares were likely to drop $50 in the next seven days with a confidence measure of 76 percent. Good odds.

Wait, there’s more: Bing is the first search engine to offer up social networking updates in its results. On October 21, Qi Lu, President of Microsoft’s Online Services Group announced Bing will now incorporate Twitter updates in search engine results with Facebook soon to follow. It’s cumbersome: to search “tweets”, you must access a segmented part of the site at bing.com/twitter, but combined with Bing’s xRank featuring top ranked celebrities, musicians, politicians, and bloggers of the minute, it’s like a real time scan of People magazine headlines. One glance and you know what’s buzzworthy.

Leslie’s takeaway: Use Google for research. Use Bing for images, videos, shopping, travel and gossip. It’s a site to visit every day if only for the tidbits on the homepage.

TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question? Email Leslie Meredith at leslie@toptenreviews.com or AskLeslie on Facebook.