Microsoft makes Bing search more chatty

A new feature lets people simplify how they phrase their questions

Microsoft has changed Bing's logo, saying the new one better reflects the search engine's broader scope

Microsoft has changed Bing's logo, saying the new one better reflects the search engine's broader scope

Microsoft has added some new smarts to its Bing search engine that lets you phrase queries in a way that feels more natural.

The company said the new functionality makes using Bing more like "having a conversation."

It lets you ask questions sequentially that build off each other, so you don't have to keep repeating the topic you're asking about.

For instance, if you ask Bing, "Who wrote Dracula"? "Bram Stoker" pops up at the top of the screen. You can then ask, "Where was he born," and it gives the answer "Dublin, Ireland."

Microsoft said it answers the questions by combining "conversational understanding" with its database of knowledge about people, places and things.

It comes as Bing's largest competitor, Google, is working to make its own search engine better at understanding queries in natural language.

Google also has a conversational search mode that works in a similar way, though currently it only works when doing voice searches in Chrome and in Google's mobile search app.

Bing's new feature works well, and you can take the questions far. After asking about Bram Stoker "Where was he born," you can also ask, "When did he die?" Answer: April 20, 1912. Or, "How did he die?" Syphilis. (But, asking simply "how?" did not work as well.)

In Bing, the feature works on the desktop as well as on mobile devices.

Microsoft has worked to make Bing more useful over the years, partly by integrating a wider range of information from outside sources into results. Data from social sites like Twitter and Facebook plays a part in this, as well as data from services like IMDB and Netflix.

Earlier this year Bing expanded its index of the Web to include more information about professionals like doctors, lawyers and real estate.

With nearly 70 percent market share in the U.S., Google is still by far the dominant player in search, according to comScore. Microsoft's Bing has just under 20 percent share.

But Bing's new feature could give it a leg up against Google when it comes to search, at least for now.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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