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Hands-on with Twitterized Bing

Microsoft is getting into the real-time search business with tweets showing up in Bing search results. Here's how the new service works so far in beta.

Bing's Twitter search starts with a zeitgeist view. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Microsoft is getting into the real-time search business, as we reported earlier Wednesday from the Web 2.0 Summit. It's good to see a mainstream product dive into this stream, as one of the big issues with searching Twitter is that timeliness can swamp relevancy.

Bing has the opportunity to leverage its well-developed search engine chops to address this--not only will public tweets will show up in search results, Bing can rank results based on relevance of the post, the popularity of the writer, and other, more complex factors.

Uncharacteristically for Microsoft, the new search feature went live shortly after the announcement. (We're told the Facebook integration, which was also announced, will be rolled out in the future.) Here's how Twitterized Bing works for users so far:

The main page give a nice overview of trending topics with a search cloud at the top of the page and a list of popular links that are being shared below it. It's a good way to get a sense of the buzz on Twitter at any moment.

Bing's basic Twitter search result page gives you both live tweets (at the top), and shared links (below). Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Search results pages themselves are likewise split into two sections, a live feed at the top with just four tweets, and a list of shared links at the bottom. Results stream in live at the top of the page, but you can pause the influx.

The "Best match" search juggles the display order to put relevant tweets up top, even if they're not the most timely. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

If you click on the link to "see more tweets" on the main result page, you get a full page of tweets on your query, with the interesting option to sort the results by "Best match." If you choose this, Bing takes a stab at ranking results based on their content and possibly other factors, like popularity and online status of the writer.

Timeliness is still a factor in "Best match" results, so you won't get day-old tweets at the top of the list on a hot topic, but adding a relevancy sort on top of that does make the search results more useful. This is especially true for hot topics where tweets feeding into a time-only sort can end up pushing useful and relevant content right off the page.

Bing unpacks short URLs to show you what people are sharing, with no surpise links. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Back on the main result page, there are links related to your search query. These are automatically unpacked from URL shorteners like Bitly. The link results have under them tweets that included a short link to the page, even if different shorteners were used to get there. Bing's Twitter search thus does a good job of pulling commentary together on a topic (a link) even from people who've never communicated with each other on the service.

None of what Bing does with Twitter is startlingly new. Twitter's own search gives great real-time Twitter results. Other engines like Twazzup and Scoopler combine relevancy rankings into their results. And OneRiot does a very good job with shared links. But it is good to see real-time content start to bleed into mainstream search. It could be useful and relevant for everyone.

But this story won't get truly interesting until the real-time feeds, from Twitter and elsewhere, start to infect the mainstream Web search results. When a trending topic or popular shared link on Twitter starts to change the way standard results are ranked, we'll start to have truly real-time search for all content. Twitter will have an impact across the Web, even for people who never use it.