Are you one of the many bibliophilic polymaths overcome with lament since the Encyclopedia Britannica announced it will no longer produce print editions and instead go the way the rest of the print industry appears to be going and focus on exclusively online content? Don’t weep too heavily, dear readers, because Encyclopedia Britannica has teamed up with Bing to hopefully make regular appearances in your life once again.
The Encyclopedia “Bingtannica” (by the way, Bing, you can send me the royalty check any time now for coining that clever name for you) partnership aims to provide brief answers to search queries within the Bing search results page by inserting a snip of pertinent information, a historical fact or two, and a thumbnail image among the list of the standard 10 blue links.
Based on my highly scientific empirical research, it appears that the Bingtannica insert tends to show up somewhere between the fourth and sixth search results. Below are a couple of different examples I found of the placement.
After giving the new feature a test drive with several search terms, the consistency with which I was seeing the Bingtannica answers was hit-or-miss. The answers seemed to appear more frequently when I searched for people as opposed to places or inanimate objects. For example, my searches for “brazen bull,” “red mercury,” “Vatican,” “Pepsi,” “corvette,” and “Salome” didn’t produce the Bingtannica answers on my first page of results.
A spokesperson from Microsoft explained that the placement of the Bingtannica links are decided with the same algorithms Bing uses for everything else. “We use our standard machine learning rankers that, by definition, adjust for things like user intent, and page placement over time,” he said.
This is likely less of an oversight and more of a sign that providing answers within Bing search results is a work in progress. After all, the amount of information in the world is scratching the barriers of infinity so it’d be a bit of a reach to expect that Bing will immediately start providing short info blurbs to your search queries regardless of how vague or specific you make your search. To be fair, I don’t expect Bing (or anybody, really) to indulge my tendencies to search for strange or uncommon topics.
The bulk of the answers provided in Bing search results will rely on information provided by Encyclopedia Britannica although some content may also be included from other reliable sources.
The insertion of the Bingtannica answers are more obscure than what Google’s been doing with its Knowledge Graph although the general information is comparable between both search engines. However, Bing’s related search suggestions tend to be more closely related to your original search term than what Google’s Knowledge Graph provides. Re-using my Giacometti search example, you can see below how Bing’s suggestions are a bit better at predicting my additional related queries than Knowledge Graph (Bing’s on the left, Google’s on the right).
It irks me that Google’s suggestions are trying to pull me away from what I originally searched for, but I guess the difference comes down to a matter of preference. At least in this specific example, I’m not interested in obtaining a consummate history on surrealism – I’m looking for Alberto Giacometti information. That’s why I entered his name in the search bar. If I wanted to learn about Giacometti’s contemporaries, I’d search for them. Nonetheless, if you prefer the former routine, I suppose Knowledge Graph is doing just fine for you but I favor Bing’s actually on-topic suggestions. There’s no accounting for taste, though, so whuddya gonna do?