Outings graduates, bringing new destination search experiences to Bing

The Garage empowers Microsoft employees to explore demand for new products and features through tangible experiments. Outings, a Microsoft Garage project, an app for iOS and Android released in December 2017 and has since generated the feedback, usage, and buzz required to confirm the sponsoring Bing team hypotheses that travel and destination search is an area for continued investment. The team has integrated insights from user’s interest and feedback into Bing.com and Bing Search apps, and the project is officially graduating from The Garage.

An experiment designed to explore new search

Bing has always had a strong culture of experimentation and the product was built from the ground up to enable efficient experimentation. “Our culture has always been: experiment, fail fast, learn fast—our Bing.com infrastructure is built to equip engineers to flight and A/B test new features,” shares Jyot Patel, the Engineering Manager of Outings and a Principal Software Engineer on the Bing team.

While the team had access to this state-of-the art testing infrastructure, they built dedicated mobile apps to more acutely test an experience that presents users with possible destinations of interest. Outings identifies rich content from online travel blogs and curates it into bite-sized attractions, or outings, that users can browse through. It’s powered by a data pipeline that mines meta-data in popular travel blogs, which debuted in the Outings experience. The focused apps allowed the team to hone the relevance of the new data type and get clear feedback and ratings on the experience to zero in on users’ interest in curated travel content.

Once they observed the positive feedback for Outings, the team knew they had to scale the experience to more users on both desktop and mobile.

Outings insights scaled to Bing.com and Bing mobile experiences

Oswaldo Ribas is a Principal Program Manager working on The Bing Attractions and Outdoors team which helps users discover attractions and destinations that they might want to visit, see, and experience, and in the process, help them map their experience. “Our goal is to continuously improve these scenarios.” He worked closely with the Outings team to explore what they’d learned about user experience and their technical approach through their experiment. “The work will surface in a number of places including the search results page and the Maps vertical.”

Bing has long had dedicated search result experiences for maps, travel, and destinations, and the insights and technology from Outings will fold into Bing in three chief ways.

  • Enhanced Search Result UX Now users will see attractions arranged in a carousel with better images, brief descriptions, and different topics synthesizing what the attractions are popular for.
  • Relevance The data pipeline fine-tuned in Outings powers more relevant search for destinations and attractions. Since the pipeline gathers meta-data from millions of travel blogs, the experience can surface the most popular attractions in particular areas
  • Improved Query Triggering Additional key terms in the search query that will cue these search result experiences. For example, you don’t just have to search the Space Needle; you can search things to do in Seattle or things to do near me

Jyot continues, “All the feedback and reviews we got, the first impression of the app was really positive. They really enjoy the content. But even if this content is already available, you’ll have to scour the internet for that information. There’s a need to have all this rich content about destinations in one place.” Now, the opportunity to access that content from a simple, single place will be available on a far broader scale.

“The positive feedback told us that there is quite a bit of demand for rich, attraction and destination content to be presented in a put-together fashion. Obviously, there’s a lot of opportunity for us to invest in travel and destinations moving forward. It confirmed suspicions that we have, basically,” adds Oswaldo.

The team is excited to bring these enhanced search results to a broader user base and continue to improve the experience. “Moving forward, we’re acquiring more and more content around attractions in France, Italy, Spain and the next countries that we’re after. I’m looking forward to seeing all that rich data surface on Bing,” he continues.

Congratulations to the entire Outings team and thanks to the users who can now see their feedback integrated into a larger search platform.

Outings fans, find your next outing on Bing

With this experiment complete, the Outings mobile app on iOS and Android will sunset on July 31, 2019. The enhanced search relevance will be available on Bing desktop and mobile experiences for English in the United States.

The Outings mixed reality experience highlighting Maps SDK will remain available for users who want to continue to use the sandboxed, sample app. The Outings Garage project will remain active but will mainly serve to illustrate the power of Maps SDK to MR developers.