In recent years, privacy concerns have led to greater scrutiny of the data companies collect and the ways they use it. Microsoft’s new search interface, called Bing Instant Answers, is the latest example of that. The company is using its algorithms to serve up key information from articles directly to the user without them needing to click through. It’s drawing both praise and criticism, with many people concerned that it could undermine the business models of media organizations who rely on clicks for advertising revenue.
On the face of it, Bing Instant Answers could appear to be another way for Microsoft to monetize people’s data. It’s true, the company will likely benefit from displaying its own ads alongside the answers. But it may also be a way for people to search for pertinent data faster than ever before, thus cutting down on the amount of time people spend online looking for answers. Microsoft also has tighter policies on ads that go beyond the industry norms and give control to the user to control what information is shared.
However, the biggest concern remains its potential disruption of media revenues. We’ve seen the upheaval that other companies like Google and Facebook have caused with the way they display content and the associated rise of ‘fake news’. Microsoft may be setting itself up for the same speculation, if not necessarily the same outcome. They are also controlling how their search results are presented, with the potential to favor certain outlets over others.
Ultimately, the success of this new search interface will depend on how it’s implemented, and how it’s used. If it moves too quickly, it could render traditional methods of finding news and information irrelevant. On the other hand, if it’s used responsibly and transparently, it could free up readers to spend time on more sources, rather than spending time clicking through to the same sources. In addition, it could theoretically give media outlets greater control over how their content is shared and presented. Only time will tell how this new feature affects media business models, but it could be a game-changer.