I get asked a lot why I use Bing. Do I think that Google is evil? Am I that strange guy that really loves Microsoft? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding, “No” although I do believe that both Microsoft and Google are pretty nifty companies that can—often unintentionally—wreck some unfortunate havoc.
Honestly, the reason I use Bing is because of their rewards Program. Bing Rewards has singlehandedly ensured that I hardly every pay any cash for coffee or tea in my occasional meetings at Starbucks by redeeming my points for Starbucks gift cards. Ever since Starbucks stores appeared in Disney World, I’ve also occasionally used these gift cards to enjoy no-cost drinks and snacks at theme parks. Between my Disney annual pass and Bing Rewards, I’ve had entire days at Disney’s Magic Kingdom that have cost me nothing but gas money and time off. Sweet!
Bing isn’t just my favorite because they bribe me, at least not anymore. It’s long been asserted that Bing has the best image search, and honestly, I feel (as in believe, but can’t quantify) that Bing is better than Google at most web searches now as well. But as I consider Microsoft’s entire strategy of focusing on the cloud and making early in-roads into virtual reality, I even see Bing’s image of the day as a benefit.
Years ago, when I first began to contemplate what VR would look like when it was ready for mainstream deployment, I couldn’t shake the idea of using certain environments to indicate features or modes of the system. I always imagined that “Settings” would be in some type of wide open vista, like a grassy field or a desert with rolling sand dunes. Bing, in a way, brings this to life already by providing a soothing backdrop to begin all searches.
I know this appears to be a loose connection, but believe me, there is a much deeper topic here relating to minimalism and user experience (UX). What is minimalism? Does it necessarily mean the absence of stuff? No. Does it imply white, black, and other non-colors (grayscale)? No. What about “clean” straight lines? No. Try convincing someone from an Amazonian tribe that a white room with nothing but a stainless steel desk and lamp is minimal. Indeed, it’s not… that is simply an aesthetic we ascribe to minimalism to semiotically convey its presence.
When you first appear in an environment, you orient yourself. What better way to explain to the human mind with little processing that a search will be conducted than to place you in the middle of an unknown environment or pique curiosity with wildlife images or photographs of exotic cultural artifacts? The use of these images, all things being equal, creates a much more human-friendly search tool in a very subtle way. In the comparison between a blank white webpage with a textbox, or a landscape (or other) photo as a backdrop and a textbox, the backdrop offers a better and more natural UX. Less clean, by some standards, but still more natural in all senses of the word.