Search Engines As Entertainment Hubs?

Bing recently added selectively curated content geared toward the entertainment sector, and while it might seem retro for a search engine to elevate human-selected content above its almighty algorithm, the new features are intended to position Bing as the preferred search engine for pop culture mavens.

Bing's new structured content scheme is best experienced when searching for musicians you probably already know a lot (possibly too much) about. Type in "Madonna" or "Michael Jackson" using a standard "Web" search and you'll get what I'd call a "trusted snippet": a bland but apparently official micro-bio of the artist, plus a tabbed layout providing info on this artist's songs, images, albums, videos, news, Wikipedia and Blog entries. The rub -- and it's a big one right now -- is that you can't currently listen to the artist's recordings. All you get is a "Coming Soon" message from Zune advising the user to "please come back later." This error seems to be intermittent and will hopefully be cured soon.



Bing's new layout for artists is attractive. Google's SERPs for this kind of Web search, where you just get the usual tabs (Images, Videos, Maps, News, Shopping, GMail, and More) aren't anywhere near as enticing. Of course, "Maps" and "GMail" tabs are useless in this context, so why display them?  Information on actors has also been tweaked on Bing: search on "Helen Mirren" and you'll see the Bing bio, plus a row of images, plus a list of recent movies in which the star appeared, followed by the usual links to Wikipedia and Google's SERP on Mirren isn't bad, but its boilerplate treatment seems to regard Mirren more as a product than a living and breathing film star. 

Where Bing's approach seems to fall down is with movie directors. Type in "Stanley Kubrick" or "Alfred Hitchcock," and you'll get practically no info beyond the fact that each directed films at some point in the 20th century. To find a list of films, you have to follow links out to other sites. Bing's two other contextualizing features -- the left-hand "related searches" entries and its expandable, mouse-rollable "More On This Page" -- are also helpful, at least in terms of gaining a quick overview of content related to a particular performer.

One larger question is whether features such as this will drive search traffic or engine loyalty. Sure, for the average pop culture surfer, it's great to have a collection of curated content all in one place, but it's all quite shallow. To gain any meaningful information about, say, what exactly motivates Helen Mirren or what exactly the musical philosophy of Duke Ellington is, one still must dig deeply off the main path ploughed by algorithms, mainstream editors, and even the Facebook "Like Button," which is rumored to be the next ascendant proxy for popularity.

Real entertaiment junkies/passionistas will never be satisfied by the kind of surface information that even the best-designed search engines can serve them, nor are these services designed for anyone but for the quick-clicking masses with the will to spend a few seconds learning about a topic before hammering the "buy" button.

While Bing's new features (which will presumably migrate in whole or in part to the newly integrated Bing-Yahoo property) are slicker than Google's right now, the real advantage that Google has lies beneath the surface in its near-decade-long effort to digitize every book under the sun.

If you're really into the films of Hitchcock or Scorsese, or the session notes for Louis Armstrong or The Hollies, you're not ever going to be satisfied by what's out on the Web. You likely want to read a book on the subject, and Google Books -- if it ever institutes micropayments -- is the real killer app for anyone who takes entertainment seriously. The only way for any competing engine to counter such an advantage is have the capability of directly delivering searchers to the primary sources of entertainment such meta-information is concerned with, in other words to the licensed copyrighted works themselves. It will be entertaining to see whether the combined Bing-Yahoo property can bring about such a service, which would be a boon to entertainment-minded searchers everywhere.

2 comments about "Search Engines As Entertainment Hubs? ".
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  1. Chris Stinson from Non-Given, July 12, 2010 at 11:34 a.m.

    Maybe I am missing something........

    so they are trying to be search and a portal for these selected items.

    Isn't that exactly why many people avoide AOL, MSN and Yahoo? Results that are self serving.

  2. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, July 12, 2010 at 2:07 p.m.

    Steve - A much more interesting "story" could come from your comments about how people looking for content about various entertainers are "not ever going to be satisfied by what's out on the Web".

    That's news to me. What is a source of that comment or finding? Doesn't that make it more difficult to challenge what one company is doing to become an 'entertainment hub'?

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