It’s no secret that Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, has long played second fiddle to Google.
But Bing is in the midst of something like a renaissance: Thanks to Windows 10 and its Cortana virtual assistant, more people are using Bing than ever before. Meanwhile, the Bing prediction engine has won itself a lot of attention in the last few years for (mostly) correctly predicting FIFA World Cup outcomes and Oscar award winners.
Now, with the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro less than a week away, Microsoft is bringing all of that to bear with a new portal that wants to be your coach and personal trainer as you keep up across the sixteen days of the event. You can find it by searching Bing for any variation of “Olympics” or “summer games.”
That means scores and video highlights, similar to what Google is offering for the games, but Microsoft is aiming for something more. The key idea, says Bing Predicts creator Walter Sun, is that there’s way more going on during any Olympics than any one person can reasonably keep up with, with 308 individual events across 28 sports.
The bottom line is that in a 16-day run that will see many athletes from around the world rise to stardom or fall from grace, Bing is trying to help viewers make some sense of it all, picking out the narratives, not just the individual events, that will be most interesting to each viewer.
“These are things that most everyone thinks are interesting, maybe you will too,” Sun says.
So, not only will Microsoft be using those prediction engines to guess the winner of each contest — Bing will be predicting future highlights, as in the events that promise to be the most dramatic, interesting, or important. And it’s going to do that on a country-by-country basis.
For instance: The USA is disproportionately interested in Men’s Basketball, given the fact that we’re fielding an all-star team that includes Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. So Bing users in the United States will get more information, headlines, and recommendations around both their past performance and future games.
Conversely, Olympic host Brazil might be more interested in Men’s Soccer, given that superstar Neymar Jr. will be representing them in the tournament, after getting an exemption from the competition’s 23-year player age limit. So Bing will highlight soccer stories and goings-on in that tournament for Brazilians.
But some athletes transcend international borders: People all around the world are interested in stories like that of Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, who’s preparing for her 7th Olympics at age 41. Or Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who’s risen to global stardom, but says he’ll retire from athletics in 2017.
“No matter what country you’re in, you want to see him,” Sun says, and so all users will get Bolt-related updates.
And by tracking search trends in each country, Bing’s models will get better at guessing what people in each country would rather see more of. If an unlikely star arises in, say, archery, Bing will start to inform readers immediately. Similarly, if swimmer Michael Phelps has an amazing run, it will inform the algorithm.
“If he’s delivering, the buzz will go higher and higher,” Sun says.
Oh, and on a final note, Sun says that Bing has been accused of trying to ruin people’s enjoyment of events by telling them who’s going to win beforehand. He says it’s to the contrary: Bing is trying to help people enjoy things more by making them instant experts in who’s favoured to win and why.
“Predictions aren’t meant to spoil your experience,” Sun says.
Ultimately, it speaks to a different way of looking at things, between Google and Bing: Where Google is trying to organise the world’s information, Bing is working hard at differentiating itself by providing more context. It’s a tough uphill fight, all things considered, but as the Olympics keep on proving, everybody loves an underdog.