Microsoft’s Bing just keeps getting more interesting: The latest news is that Microsoft recently closed a deal with WolframAlpha’s management to get some of Wolfram’s impressive sciencey “fact calculation” goodness showing in Bing’s results.
Despite Steven Wolfram popping up a new blog which details the technical tweaks Bing has benefitted from recently, the news has surfaced over at TechCrunch. It arises from sources “close to Wolfram,” and it suggests that Microsoft has been in discussion with Steven Wolfram’s team for quite some time–“long talks” is how it’s described. We don’t know exactly what the specifics of the deal are, but it’s easy to speculate: Bing has licensed some or all of the innovative computational search functions that drive WolframAlpha’s fact engine–the extensive fact-based database, or the algorithms that drive it.
The intention is probably to give Bing some of the same factual results to search queries, but I wouldn’t expect to see Wolfram-powered results appearing in the standard stream of search replies on Bing–they’d clash with the look and feel of the more normal results. It might make more sense for Microsoft to separate out the fact-calculator search replies into a separately-themed service. Something similar to the way MS has parceled off Bing’s Travel functions with a slightly different look and feel to the main site. It’s even possible MS could have some kind of context-sensing in the main Bing search box, driving a pop-up along the lines of the old Paperclip helper: “It looks like you’re searching for some exact data. Why not try our Bing Science Search Service?”
How will Google respond to the incorporation of WA into Bing? We can only speculate–but we do know Google’s Lab team has already been in action trying to build a rival to Wolfram that uses tabulated and graphical responses to help compartmentalize search results. It’s likely that Google will step up its development of this sort of next-gen search engine tech if it sees Bing obtaining features Google can’t yet supply–but it’s a big job, as Wolfram’s algorithm is particularly clever.
Looking at the deal from afar, it seems extremely reasonable: Microsoft gets a powerful new weapon to beef up Bing’s arsenal and rival Google, and WolframAlpha’s code gets used for a fee. It’s particularly interesting from WA’s point of view–its interface isn’t remotely as polished as Bing’s is, and something like this may well have been what Wolfram’s team has been planning all along. Will we be seeing WA’s code popping up in other places too? It’s an intriguing thought, and not without precendent: What with Bing appearing in Facebook’s search, and recently superseding Yahoo’s search engine, the search engine wars seem to have turned into more of a merry-go-round.