When Microsoft rebranded it’s search offering from Live to Bing – the decision engine, it already knew it had a tall act to follow. Google’s empire isn’t build just on it’s web search engine; it’s nowdays a slickly integrated suite of products cataloguing pages, images, video, news, people and places amongst other things. So when Stefan Weitz of Microsoft Seattle came to town, it was natural that a whole heap of queries would be thrown up. What would the results be?

Microsoft Bing logo

Microsoft Bing logo

A private party held in Covent Garden, Bing Brings it to Town naturally attracted a number of senior players together with a raft of start ups, agencies and other eco-systems co-factors. It seems there’s a lot of interest in Bing Maps and the race to local.

“We can’t do everything ourselves” said Marie Thirlwall of Bing UK. “We build those data stores by partnering” she explained in reference to my questions regarding the local directory listings. Thompson currently are a data partner with Bing yet with interest in local heating up, especially in light of the mobile/geolocation boom there were other interests in the room.

Rummble API

Rummble API

Andrew Scott, founder of mobile app, Rummble.com gave an excellent impromtu demo of how they’ve expanded to incorporate FourSquare style check ins whilst maintaining their focus on discovery and reviews. Rummble allows users to rate any physical place they visit from their mobile, as well as discover new places they may like based on their friends reviews. They can let their friends know where they are and the system is now being integrated into other real time services like Twitter, with Rummble Twitter now in Alpha. Perhaps more exciting for the entrepreneurial amongst you, Rummble have made a decision to offer free access to their API. This allows third party websites and developers to create geolocational services that work with their existing communities. With the freedom of not having to build an entire service from ground up, the eagle eyed will spot the oil well there. In an age of land grab, you just might want to consider rummbling your turf before someone else does.

If that wasn’t enough opportunity to get you thinking of location based communities, the local presence continued with Caroline Lavelle, director of Akesios Search Analytics. Akesios have been developing their offering for a decade now and offer a ready to go white label business directory solution with built in monetisation opportunities. Caroline tells me that far from having been destroyed by Google’s anti-link buying stance, there is still a strong and buoyant market for vertical directories and those serving niche communities and her company offer a range of services to take existing print publishers into the digital arena successfully. So how can visitors be monetised?

One technique was explained to me by the Rohini Contractor of Hitwise UK. Collaboration with ISPs allows for anonymous cache based profiling of traffic, allowing businesses to target consumers with relevant advertising without the need for older, potentially intrusive technologies like browser cookies. There’s more details on how Hitwise provide this data here.

So here in one room we’ve all the brains needed to build directories, populate it with user driven reviews and build in targeted advertising based on location. Why hasn’t Bing used it’s decision engine to create some critical mass?

“We know we’ve got some work to do,” confessed Stefan who was remarkably frank and under no illusion about Bing’s market standing. Yet at the same time his expression was full of optimism.

I queried Stefan a little on the Microsoft/Twitter tie up and whether he felt that real time search had the potential to be the game changer Microsoft needed. Stefan was very aware that although both major search engines now have access to the Twitter API, we’re now in an arms race scenario to see who can first start using that data intelligently and providing more than just a carousel of real time tweets. He couldn’t let lose as to whether acquisitions of real time search engines like Topsy were on the cards yet also stated that there definitely was the possibility of buying in innovation.

“One thing I’m very proud of,” continued Stefan, “is Bing Maps. I think it’s a great product that’s really shaping up strongly.”

Once again I was reminded of the Holy Trinity of digital convergence – local, mobile and social. Although Windows Mobile may have come off of the latest handsets by Palm, it still remains a great piece of software for those needing tight integration with Microsoft Office and a future release could doubtless stitch together a far more wide reaching variety of Microsoft services. Bing is already under the hood of the Windows Mobile 7 release.

It seems that whilst the search is on for the winning formula to change consumer behaviour, Microsoft are returning an ever better result set and Google’s increasing corporate reputation as ‘just another Goliath’ means that the Microsoft bashing of yesteryear is diminishing. Clearly, there’s quite some party left to be had in search. Here’s to you Stefan, Bindi and Marie at Microsoft, the more players we have in this party, the more fun for everyone. Looking forwards to the next installment from Bing!