Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft and Google go head to head over tracking Santa

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) has been tracking Santa since 1955. It all began when a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. The phone number put the children through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations hotline. The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location and the Santa Tracker was born.

NORAD now uses four high-tech systems to track Santa – radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets. The Santa Cams “are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many locations around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras once a year. The cameras capture images and videos of Santa and his reindeer as they make their journey around the world”. Full technical details of all four systems can be found on the NORAD Santa site at http://www.noradsanta.org/en/how.html.

2012 NORAD Santa Tracker
2012 NORAD Tracks Santa (HD) – YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jb0gj_sIBdg

In 2007 Google became an official NORAD Tracks Santa partner and provided the maps that displayed real time information on Santa’s location. This year, that partnership ended and NORAD is now using Microsoft’s Bing Maps. In response Google has launched its own Santa Tracker at http://www.google.com/santatracker/. It will be interesting to see how it compares with NORAD’s but straight away I have to query the quality of Google’s pre-launch information. On the “Learn more” page at http://www.google.com/santatracker/about.html the image shows not Santa as the central figure but a large snowman. Surely some mistake?

Google Santa Tracker Learn More

Google is also trying to push Google+ as the main source of information with up to the minute reports being posted on +Googlemaps at https://plus.google.com/+GoogleMaps/posts

At the time of writing this post lift off was just 15 minutes away so you still have time to get a ring side seat with the tracer of your choice:

The original NORAD tracker http://www.noradsanta.org/

Google Santa Tracker http://www.google.com/santatracker/

Bing integrates Wolfram Alpha and out of beta in UK – allegedly

Hitting my RSS feeds this morning was the announcement from Bing that their UK version is out of beta. “So what,”  I thought. “Doesn’t look any different to me this morning”. But looking at the announcement in full I see that there is a plethora of new services that I can now enjoy. To start with:

“When you search for Football, what kind of answers do you expect to find. Well, I guess it depends on where you are doing the asking, if you are in the UK you probably don’t want to see NFL schedules. You probably mean what we in the US call soccer. Well today, millions of searchers in the UK can rest assured that Bing knows what they are talking about. We are excited to announce today that Bing in the UK is shedding its beta tag.  We want to congratulate our pals over in the UK on a huge milestone. You can now use Bing to make faster more informed choices on a daily basis.  Oh, and the next Manchester United game is on the 21st of November at 17:30 GMT (that’s 5:30 p.m. for us Yanks), in case you were wondering.”

My first reaction was that I wanted to be sick: I found this so patronising. We in the UK should be so grateful that Bing has finally realised that we have a life separate from the US and that Bing has taken the trouble to find out what we mean by football. Sorry, but I am not at all interested in football so if this is all you are offering as UK customisation then I nominate you for the #epicfail awards.

But let’s not be hasty. Let’s look at what else they have to offer.

“The daily Bing Homepage image and hotspots are something that now will be localized in the UK, with unique imagery and hotspots.”

At last!  The photos on the home page are of landmarks and locations in the UK and not of the Galapagos islands or Mongolia. This morning we had the Angel of the North and then the Avebury stones. The ‘hotspots’ option is now working and if you are interested you can find out more about the subject of the photo.

Bing UK

“Visual Search using visual images and metadata to make search more visual and more compelling.”

Pathetic! For a start there is no visual search on the home page. You have to click on the More option, which takes you to a page where it is listed. They seem to have deleted US stuff and and given us UK politicians under famous people, and Premier League Football Players and Professional UK football clubs under Sports. That is it. Where are the rugby clubs and cricket?  Oh, and under ‘More’ we have ‘Yoga poses’. Now I wonder why that is there? Could it be anything to do with the fact that there are only pictures of photogenic girlies in interesting poses that might possibly attract a lot of visitors to the site? Surely not. How about some gorgeous male hunks in interesting poses?!

“More Instant Answers. Get quick response answers and results to searches, such as how is Liverpool doing in the Premiership or which tourist attraction should I take my in-laws to at the weekend?”

Yet more football, but I thought I would try out their own search “How is Liverpool doing in the Premiership”. Bing did not come up with any easy to find information on this (I was assuming that the searcher would want to know where Liverpool is in the League Table). Google, however, had the official site of the premier league at the top of the results, which has a link to the current league table positions of all of the clubs.

Bing results


Google results


“See who or what is being chatted about real-time with a global live Twitter feed with Bing Twitter search.”

#epicfail yet again I’m afraid. You have to know the URL of the Bing Twitter search because it is not listed on the UK home page or under ‘More’. Do not be too disappointed because it is a waste of server space, processing time and your time: see my blog posting Twitter search in Bing and Google

“Looking for the best deals?  – There is now an integrated shopping experience with Ciao UK. With Bing you can search the Internet to find the best prices, reviews and local availability.”

Bing didn’t do too badly on this one. We need a new frying pan and it came up with sensible results apart from the Keith Floyd biography “Out of the Frying Pan”. The best link, though, was one of the adverts for John Lewis.


“With insights from our Multimap users, Bing Maps now offers new map styles, imagery and transit integration as well as draggable routes.”

In general the maps are fine. The Bird’s Eye imagery, which is equivalent to Google’s Satellite view, is higher resolution than Google’s and sometime more up to date. The ‘find a business option’ is as incomplete as Google’s. If you want to locate pubs, restaurants, plumbers etc in an area then go direct to Yellow Pages or Thomson Local. The directions for walking from my house to Reading railway station were sensible but it failed when I asked for Manchester Piccadilly railway station to Manchester Business School  (Google Maps had no problems). In fact, Bing Maps could not find Manchester Business School in any shape or form. As for “draggable routes” – no sign of them here.

“Bing has been built for the UK to help consumers get to key local sites and services in fewer links by including popular links, search boxes and suggestions within best match.”

If you are interested in football and shopping, then that might be true. It is certainly better than the US-centric stuff but overall still nowhere near as relevant as Google’s results.

Let’s move on to the announcement that Bing now incorporates results from Wolframalpha ( How Many Calories in a Burger? What’s 2^2^2^2^2? Bing and Wolfram|Alpha Have the Answers). This won’t take very long because I could not get it to work. I even tried the examples they give with the UK and the US versions of Bing and Wolfram Alpha is nowhere to be seen in the results. Has anyone managed to get this to work as described or has the integration not actually happened yet?

Having spent most of the morning struggling with Bing’s new features, and in some cases failing to find them at all, I was beginning to wonder if I had dreamt the dozens of announcements that littered my RSS feeds. I double checked and they are definitely there. Perhaps it’s a tech issue? I’m running Windows 7 on my main machine but the results are the same on Windows XP, and it makes no difference whether I run Firefox or IE. So I can only draw the conclusion that yet again Microsoft Bing has made a complete [expletives deleted] mess of everything. We could do with another half decent alternative to Google but Bing is just not in the same league.

    Microsoft Academic Search – don’t get your hopes up

    Microsoft Academic Search has been made a public beta.  Before you get too excited this is not Academic Live resurrected. This is a project from Microsoft Research Asia and although the help screen says “Find top scientists, conferences, and journals in a specific field” it only seems to cover computing and the Internet.

    The visual explorer is interesting – you need to install sliverlight – and the Advanced Search is reasonable, but if like me you were expecting a worthy competitor to Google Scholar you will be disappointed. But if you are interested in conferences and papers on computing and Internet technologies then give it a go.

    Bing UK Round Table Meeting

    Hashtag: #meetbing

    Twelve bloggers, including myself and Phil Bradley, were invited to the round table meeting with Microsoft Bing in London on the evening of June 29th. The aim of the event, according to the email correspondence that preceded it, was to outline Microsoft’s plans for Bing in the UK and to obtain feedback and opinions from us. It wasn’t so much ’round table’ as around several tables. Laptops, netbooks and iphones came out at the start of the meeting and we all jostled for positions near power sockets. We were actively encouraged to tweet and blog before, during and after the event to our respective communities in order to spread the word and to elicit feedback from colleagues and friends. And we were provided with free wi-fi. This was definitely a step in the right direction and very different from similar search engine events that I have attended where you do not get through the door unless you have signed a non-disclosure agreement in blood, and you end up in a room that turns out to be a Faraday cage. So full marks to Microsoft on this aspect of the meeting.

    The plan was to have a presentation followed by a break, then another session with, I think, questions and feedback throughout. It started off according to timetable with an outline of what Microsoft is doing with Bing. As many UK searchers had already noticed the US version of Bing is very different from the one we have in the UK, which is still in beta. Microsoft wanted to “get traction” in the US first before developing the other country versions further. For example, they hope to be rolling out spell checking of queries in a few weeks.

    They then produced some statistics, one of which stated that only 1 in 4 searches delivers a successful result. I questioned where this data had come from and was told it had been collected from MSN search and the toolbar in IE. This then raised the question of how valid their data really is. It was soon after this that the programme fell apart as the questions started to flow fast and furious.

    One question was about the size of the Bing index. The Microsoft people dod not seem too sure about this but came up with a figure of approximately 10 billion pages. This surprised me as there have been several occasions when Live, Bing’s predecessor, has come up with unique pages that were not in either Google’s or Yahoo’s index. The index may be smaller, they said, but they are concentrating on quality – although no clues as to how they are doing that – and using humans and neural networks for “training” the ranking algorithms. They believe they will provide search results as relevant to Google in the UK in a few months. One piece of jargon that went completely over my head was tweeted by @leggetter: Microsoft are using NDCG to determine their search result relevance. If like me you haven’t a clue what that is, take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NDCG. In practice, people don’t care about the technology behind the results they just want relevant stuff on that first page and that is what is going to convince people that Bing is worth using.

    Microsoft confirmed that they are concentrating on the consumer market, which is obvious from the “verticals” that they are promoting in the US, for example suggesting hotels, comparing airline flight prices, comparing prices for various products. When I asked if they were going to provide a proper advanced search screen, they repeated their mantra of “concentrating on the consumer market” the implication being that “consumers” don’t need advanced search. I beg to differ. Google and Yahoo’s main audience is the consumer market. That is where they make  their money, but they still have a decent advanced search screen. Yes, you can do advanced search on Bing such as restricting to filetype but you have to know the commands. Most people acquire their searching preferences and skills at school, university, work or in the public library. If you get stuck you ask a colleague, the librarian or someone in the information centre what to do next. They may suggest a different search tool or show you how to use the advanced search screen boxes on Google or Yahoo. Filling in boxes is far easier for many people than having to remember and type in command line prefixes. And what people learn and find useful at school or in the workplace they continue to use when they search at home.

    It was around this point in the discussion that Phil Bradley said  “Nothing new here, nothing that excites me, nothing that is innovative”. And I have to agree with him. UK Bing at present is simply a rebadged version of Live.com. The Microsoft people admitted that it is not as good as it  should be but affirmed their commitment to its development long term. We shall have to wait and see. The UK team obviously passionately believes in the product but Microsoft does not have a good track record when it comes to following through on new initiatives. Academic Live was far superior to Google Scholar and its Live Books had content and advanced search features that Google Books did not. Both services were axed in May 2008.

    And finally there is the issue of censorship. Phil Bradley has repeatedly raised this with Bing directly, via his blog and on Twitter but so far has had no satisfactory response, and the Bing people at the meeting did not seem to know what is going on. For background on this see Phil’s blog postings The Microsoft Bing MeetingBing: excluding results from UK version? and More on Bing removing UK content.

    Overall, I am not sure what to make of the meeting. I suspect that Bing were expecting to be able do a straightforward sales pitch with a few easy questions from a tame audience, which we most definitely were not! I must congratulate the Bing people, though, for the cool way in which they handled the meeting. There was a lot of scribbling of notes on their side and promises to look into our concerns and questions. I had received several questions and comments from friends and colleagues but there was not enough time to raise them at the meeting itself.  Apart from the ridiculously short amount of time available to us  – we had two and a half hours  – there was a mixture of web developers, web 2.0 gurus and serious web searchers (Phil Bradley and myself) at the event and most of us had long lists of questions. I would definitely attend a second meeting but it would be more productive if they had separate events for developers and searchers.

    So would I recommend Bing as a search tool? Yes, but purely because I have always included Live.com in my list of essential search engines and Live now redirects to Bing. Bing is different from Live in the way it handles results but for some of my business searches it still sometimes pulls up unique results. (I will look at Bing search results in more detail in a separate posting). Is it a Google beater? I would love to see Bing give Google a run for its money but I can’t see it happening at present.

    Other blog postings on the meeting include The Microsoft Bing Meeting, Phil Leggetter – Microsoft Bing.com round table thoughts, Bing Roundtable: Where was the innovation? : David Stuart, Web Reflection: UK Bing Roundtable – Just My Opinion. Apologies if I have missed anyone.

    Bing – don’t bother!

    Bing.com has launched and I just cannot believe that Microsoft have made so much fuss over something that is no better than the existing Live.com. The UK version is labelled as beta and the US one as “Preview” so is there more coming soon as is suggested by Microsoft/Bing in their blogs? I sincerely hope so because so far this “decision engine” does not live up to the hype.

    Phil Bradley has already reviewed Bing and I agree entirely with everything he has said.  The home page is reminiscent of the old Ask home page that allowed you to “skin” the page with an image. I like the snow leopard that is on the UK version but if I should get bored with it, I can’t change it.

    My test web searches came up with results that were mostly identical with those from Live.com. For some of them, for example my search on car ownership UK, Bing puts a fact or a statistic at the top of the page. In this case it came up with 510 cars per 1000 people, a statistic apparently from the International Road Federation but 2004 data! The Advanced Search is as pathetic as ever, but you can use search commands such as ‘filetype: ‘ and ‘site:’ in the standard search box.

    The image search is virtually the same as Live’s with minor changes to the layout.  The Shopping option takes UK users to Ciao.co.uk (very confusing), News is as useless as before, and Maps takes you to Multimap. Much more interesting is the Google-type maps option at http://maps.live.com/ or http://maps.bing.com/ but you cannot find that by following the menu options. You have to know and enter the URL directly into your browser.

    At present, all Microsoft seem to have done is put a slightly different interface on top of Live and given it a different domain name, an impression further reinforced by the help files still being on live.com. I will continue to use Live.com as one of my favourite alternative search engines: it does sometimes come up with unique content and I like the image search. Bing has nothing that is significantly new or innovative. As Phil Bradley says, what a wasted opportunity. Google can rest easy.