Microsoft is tweaking The New Bing constantly, grooming it to be the heir apparent to the traditional, or Top-10 blue links model that first appeared in its modern form much?
Feb. 25, 2023: Tone Control and Special Superscripts
On February 25, 2023, Microsoft announced a new feature called Tone Control that would allow users to set the tone of the AI to be more or less human-like.
Feb. 28, 2023: Ads in Bing
On February 28, 2023, still ahead of the 5-question limit even appearing for me, the next big advancement hit. I remember it clearly because it was my first day working for MOZ and I threw out my back and distinctly remembered that I’d rather chat with Bing than wade through top-10 links that will inevitably be dominated by ads.
Imagine my surprise this being the first moment I noticed ads in The New Bing. AdWords-like ads in AI-chat! Isn’t this what Google should be doing?
What struck me with this experience even more than the ads was the fact that when I needed to search fast, I didn’t want to be hit with the traditional search interface. I just wanted to talk to an expert. This went beyond the “1 right answer” of a rich snippet. I was already used to the back-and-forth discussion aspect of chat-enhanced search, and was impressed by how the AI seemed to empathize with my situation.The idea of a “relationship” with your search engine should not be underestimated.
What’s more, with every new website you visit first hitting you with the GDPR cookie prompt, then with ads, and with Google’s Rich Snippets and Quick Answers already teaching us to alternatives to clicking through, the practical use of this new back-and-forth conversational style to search feels like a no brainer.
March 1, 2023: Upping the Question Limit to 6
By March 1, 2023, the 5-question limit was in place and was in fact already upped to 6 questions:
March 3, 2023: Question Limit += 1
By March 3rd, 2023, the question limit was upped to 8:
Somebody was playing a game of Jenga with the question limit, and I was starting to get the feeling that the AI was getting more mature and accepting of its job at Microsoft. The tower would not topple.
March 7, 2023: Aggressive Monetization by Microsoft
By March 7, Microsoft was experimenting with aggressively monetizing on commerce keywords:
To this day, Bing chat prompts that include the word “iPhone” will trigger similar ads. But is the traffic sent? Well, the entire text of the chat leading up to the ad label is a link to the advertiser’s site. This is analogous to when GoTo.com, the first search engine to mix paid-search with organic search showed the way to AdWords to Google, but fast-forwarded 20 years and coming from an already existing mega competitor rather than a small startup.
March 8, 2023: Question Limit Increased to 10
By March 8, 2023, the question limit was upped to 10:
March 14, 2023: Question Limit Extended to 15 and Introduction of “site:” Search Modifiers
By March 14, the question limit is upped to 15, and I start noticing Bing’s ability to modify it’s second-stage searching to include “site:” modifiers, presumably doing very precision searches of the Bing index to find the best answer to my question. This is a very impressive feature, and I’m surprised it’s not encountered and discussed more.
March 16, 2023: General Public Access to The New Bing and Integration with Edge Browser
Since March 16, 2023, most people have been able to sign up and immediately get access to The New Bing. This was accompanied with a new version of Microsoft Edge desktop browser that planted the Bing logo in the upper-right of the browser and a sidebar that would open up to the right of the browser serving chat sessions that were in-context of what you were looking at, allowing such features as asking about the YouTube video you were watching. By this time, all roads lead to Bing chat for Edge users, and everything but using exact web addresses will initiate a chat session.
Mistyped web addresses in the address bar initiate chat sessions because that counts as a search. This is now the default experience on Windows with the included browser. You have to actively work to turn it off or download an alternative browser like Chrome to avoid this behavior.
This is significant because as Windows operating systems and laptops get upgraded, all defaults reset back to Bing, setting the stage for a battle that Microsoft could win through attrition alone. At some point, the default search engine is given a chance by users tired of going through the rigmarole of customization and discover that Bing is actually pretty good.
While this heavy handed approach would appear to be inevitably effective, Google’s success in motivating Chrome installs buys Google some time. According to Bing itself:
There are several websites that track browser market share. According to W3Counter, Chrome accounts for 63% of the total market share for all browsers worldwide. According to Global Stats StatCounter, as of November 2020 Chrome holds a whopping 70.33% of the desktop browser market share worldwide. More precisely, Chrome dominates the global web browser market with a whopping 65.68% share. The only other browser on the market that has a somewhat considerable share is Safari, with 18.68%.
Consequently, all of Microsoft’s effort to make Bing the default search engine on desktop is blocked by Google’s success to date. But we know Edge is based on Chrome, so does Edge show up as Chrome in these statistics? Again, according to Bing:
No, Edge users are not reported as Chrome users in these statistics. According to Kinsta, Microsoft Edge has a desktop browser market share of 5.83%. According to WPOven Blog, Microsoft’s Edge is at the second position with 7.75% browser market share. According to WebTribunal, Microsoft Edge has a desktop browser market share of 10.07%.
…leaving us to conclude, after calculating Apple out of the equation, that only about 1 in 8, or 12.5% of desktop users don’t go through the trouble of replacing the default Windows browser with Chrome, which I speculate is still a residual effect of the non-standard and now retired Internet Explorer. Aggressive pushing of Windows 11 upgrades and new hardware will likely increase Edge market share and drive up exposure to the Bing search + chat experience. Microsoft now requires a Microsoft account to install Windows, which also happens to be the requirement for The New Bing.
March 21, 2023: Google Announces Bard Availability with Limited Features
On March 21, 2023, Google announced that they are granting access to Bard to people on the waiting list. Feature-wise, Bard came out very sparse. No citations. No links. No images. No ads. I received access to Bard 2 days later and ran some rudimentary experiments on the features I felt most relevant at the time, awareness of current events.
Most notably, Google Bard stands on its own domain, bard.google.com, and is not integrated into the main Google search experience. This is a stark difference from Bing, which has integrated chat into the main search experience. This is significant because it means that Google Bard is not positioning itself as an alternative search engine experience, nor even an enhanced one, but rather as just a chatbot, and thus readily dismissed by the serious searcher.
As far as other features go, it can be added that Bard simultaneously offers 3 alternative responses to a prompt, but this can hardly be counted as a feature over Bing as it closely resembles Bing’s “Tone Control” feature.
March 27, 2023: Bing Raises Question Limit to 20
By March 27, the Bing question-limit was upped to 20, bringing us to where it stands today. The visibly aggressive roll-out of new features slowed down, and over the last month there has been very little new. Microsoft has been fine-tuning under what conditions chat sessions are initiated.
March 28, 2023: Bard Now Includes Citations, though Limited in Integration and Accessibility
As of March 28, 2023, Bard can give citations. It was not announced and may have been there longer. It is not well integrated and only appends a few links to the end under circumstances Bard deems appropriate. It is not clear how Bard decides when to give citations and when not to.
When citations are given, they are only ever appended at the end of the chat response, and never embedded and hyperlinked inline with accompanying footnote-style numbering as with Bing. Additionally, the citations are not in the copyable text. If you actually want to “lift” the citation links and use them in other places such as articles like this one, it can be quite a struggle.
April 21, 2023: Bard Introduces Coding Capability and Integration with Colab
The last significant development in the chatbot space was Bard’s ability to provide code, announced April 21, 2023. From March 28 when limited citation capability appeared in Bard to April 21 when coding ability was announced is absolutely glacial in terms of the development speed we’ve been seeing.
On the plus side, perhaps the most exciting unannounced aspect of the coding feature is that when you ask Bard to code something, it will actually hide under the lower-right triple-dot menu the ability to “Export to Colab” and actually run the code in a cloud-based Notebook environment.
Can a Bards or Magis beat a Lich in a Joust?
My habits are formed. Microsoft was successful conditioning me to always give the conversational search model a try first. I’ve overridden most of the default browser settings Microsoft originally mandated as a condition of using Bing, most notably making the search bar default to Google when it’s not an exact web address typed in. And it’s not insignificant to point out that Edge is always my first choice browser because even with your Microsoft login on Chrome, and even with the appearance of all the Chat UI elements, any attempt to click them will tell you that Chat mode is only available when you have access to new Bing.
Being that I know that I do have access to the new Bing on that very same Microsoft user account that I’m logged in as under that Chrome session, I wonder what it is that they’re trying to tell me? Latest episode of the Browser Wars, much?
What Google’s catch-up game is going to be is uncertain. Bard doesn’t seem like it could be the end game, and indeed Google has already announced the latest in its Dungeons & Dragons campaign: Magi, but few details are known. Perhaps Google has something in store for us that will blow our minds and make the new Bing… well, look like the old Bing. Or maybe it’s just that finally the Lich woke up, and Google is not ready to play. Bards and Magis may have no chance trying to joust a Lich.