Neal Freeland

Engineering/marketing manager, family guy. My personal blog with a few work thoughts mixed in.

Archive for the ‘Computers and Internet’ Category

Star Trek Homepage

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We built a fun Easter egg homepage today. The main homepage is a picture of Mercury, and if you type [beam me up] it transitions to a Star Trek version featuring the USS Enterprise and movie trivia hotspots. The latest version of the movie – Star Trek Into Darkness – launches this weekend so this has been a fun little project for the team to help build our brand.

Homepage Original

Homepage May 15 2013


Written by nealfreeland

May 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

Bing Knows Neal

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This week we announced some upgrades to Bing based on our Satori database. Satori is Japanese for understanding, and with this data we have unique knowledge of entities (people, places, things) across the web and the world. It’s been fun working on the UX to share this data in ways that help users complete their tasks and learn about the world.

Here’s an example of important people data ūüôā

Neal Freeland Snapshot

Some news coverage:

Written by nealfreeland

March 27, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Bing Snapshots

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We¬†upgraded our snapshot¬†feature last week with several new “People search” scenarios. Search used to be just about matching keywords to a list of¬†documents (ie, links to web pages). We are now developing an understanding of the entities (ie, people, places, and things) those keywords represent, and able to return a single, canonical result. It takes a lot of engineering science, data, and teamwork to make something like this happen. It’s very rewarding to see it come to life.

 Actors  Musicians  Famous People  Generic Entities
 Scarlett Johansson  Rihanna  Pablo Picasso  Paris

There has been some press, which is fun to read:

Written by nealfreeland

December 19, 2012 at 11:27 am

Club Bing Closes But Bing Rewards Continues

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Club Bing, a marketing program I created with a small group of co-workers five years ago under the name Live Search Club, is closing in May. Very few marketing programs endure more than a few months, so I’m proud this one lasted so long. It definitely way over-achieved on its original mission to get people to give our search a try.

It’s hard to believe how far search at Microsoft has advanced since we launched this program in 2007.¬†Back then our¬†share was in persistent decline, we were trying to link the search brand to Windows (at one point calling it Windows Live Search, which really confused people), and we had a relatively modest marketing budget. Although the core product had improved quite dramatically, most of our¬†attempts to tell our story by buying media felt totally feckless, like shouting in a storm. We didn’t have enough money to break through, and since search seemed “solved” no one cared anyway.

We needed to try something different, so we decided instead to invest our marketing budget in what we called an “Engagement Platform.” Rather than buy a fleeting media impression or rent an inbound click, we decided to create one-to-one relationships with our users, turning them into members of our program. We realized to do this successfully we needed to make the program fun and entertaining, so we entered the casual games category and embedded search into the experiences. Instead of just claiming “our search is good”, we put fun little challenges in front of people and then let them use search to help solve them. People spent hours playing the games, using our search, and experiencing the brand, in the process learning “hey, this search product actually works!”

One of the other unique things we did was to power the Engagement Platform with small rewards, giving people an even stronger incentive to spend time with our search games. Each time people played the games and did searches they earned tickets which could be redeemed for prizes. Fun, entertaining, rewarding, and useful – the perfect combination of benefits to support a strong value proposition. We launched in May 2007 and the program immediately grew 100 times bigger than our highest expectations, dramatically impacting our share. No wonder the program lasted five years.

Games was only the start of our vision. We named the program Live Search Club instead of Live Search Games because we saw the Engagement Platform as the start of a broader loyalty program Рmembership in the club has its rewards. We aspired to expand the incentives beyond just doing searches as part of playing games and also include regular, everyday use of our search. I spent a lot of time with a vendor development team I hired to ensure we engineered the platform correctly to support this expansion. For me personally it was a lot of fun, and helped to define a fairly unique set of skills: I could do both marketing and engineering, and discovered that I could create powerful ways to combine these skills to drive positive business goals.

After the launch of the Club I left Microsoft for a few years and worked at a couple of start-ups. In my absence the program chugged along successfully even though it never really got a push to fulfill the broader vision. But the vision lingered, and in 2010 my previous manager Derrick Connell (now our Corporate VP) recruited me to come back and launch Bing Rewards. This is the program the Club was always meant to become, and we’re pretty happy with the results. So while nostalgia makes me a little sad to see the end of Club Bing, I’m happy to help the vision continue to grow and contribute to the success of Bing.


Written by nealfreeland

February 16, 2012 at 12:01 am

How Game Design Can Motivate People to Use Bing

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Bing is a great search engine. Our results are top-notch, we have many innovative features, and our brand is known and admired. That said, people are creatures of habit and continue to use other search engines. To be successful, we need to find ways to motivate people to take the time to try Bing and use it more. Just building a better mousetrap will not ensure the world will beat a path to our door. We have to understand and tap into what motivates people to act.

What Motivates People?                                               

Motivation is the force that drives people to take action[1]. It is their willingness to spend energy to do something.  There are two basic classifications of motivation.

  • Intrinsic motivation. People can be internally motivated, taking interest or enjoyment in the activity itself.
    • Desire for mastery. They may derive a sense of self-esteem from mastering an activity and doing it well.
    • Desire to help others (altruism). They may also be motivated by altruism, feeling a sense of belonging and fulfillment when they are able to use their knowledge and skills to help others.
  • Extrinsic motivation. People can also be externally motivated, responding positively to feedback from their environment.
    • Desire for recognition. They may want public acknowledgement for their achievements, looking to a community to give them status and recognize their merit.
    • Desire for rewards. They may also be driven by a desire to obtain incentives such as pay or rewards.

Motivation can be increased by reinforcing desired behavior: do A, get B. B is the reinforcer, and can be anything people find desirable. Everyone is different, so the reinforcers must align with people’s desires for mastery, altruism, recognition, or rewards.

The reinforcers can also be scheduled. There are two basic types of schedules.

  • Fixed schedule. Every time people do A, they always get B. Fixed schedules are like annual bonuses, and are useful for setting up clearly defined rules and expectations about what is needed to get the reinforcer. However, their predictability can also make them boring, with the desired behavior fading over time or requiring ever increasing reinforcers to drive the same behavior.
  • Variable schedule. Every time people do A, they sometimes get B.¬† Variable schedules are like slot machines, and are useful for keeping interest high. However, the lack of predictability may make it difficult, especially for new participants, to immediately understand what behavior is being reinforced.

How We Currently Motivate People to Use Bing

Bing Rewards currently gives people credits when they search with Bing, check out new features, or set their homepage or search defaults to Bing. This is an extrinsic motivator that capitalizes on people’s desire for incentives. We use a variable schedule to reinforce this behavior, changing the rate at which people earn credits each month and adding new features to explore a couple of times a week.

As we continue to develop the program, we are considering the following:

  • Expand motivations. There is only so much direct value in the form of cash rewards that we are going to be able to share with program members. To grow interest in the program we need to find ways to motivate people beyond just rewards and take advantage of the desires for mastery, altruism, and recognition.
  • Add fixed schedule. We have several test cells with different earning rates, and some of our members only get one credit for every 3 or 5 searches. When a member is brand new to the program, this schedule does not provide enough immediate feedback. We‚Äôre considering ways to address this.

Game Design Principles                                                

Game designers have developed several principles to make games enjoyable and keep people coming back. We can draw several important insights from these principles that will help us continue to shape and grow the program.

  • Create the player journey. Games are enjoyable because there is a story line filled with challenges for the players. We need to create a journey that supports each stage of a member‚Äôs lifecycle with Bing.
    • Newbies. With each new Bing member, we have an opportunity to educate them about what Bing provides and get them hooked.¬† We can do this by designing an onboarding experience (or game) that will showcase Bing’s value, and offer the player a series of challenges.
    • Experts. Once Bing members know the ropes, they shift into a different lifecycle phase that’s about building and reinforcing the habit of using Bing. At this stage, the members are ready for more tools. We can start to expose the breadth of features and domains in Bing.
    • Masters. A small (2-5%) but important subset of Bing members will become Masters. These are passionate heavy-users who know everything about Bing and want to help make it better. We can harness their energy and ideas by giving them something exclusive to do and achieve via ‚ÄúThe Elder Game.‚ÄĚ There is no immediate need to develop this part of the program but it is something for us to look to do in the future.

  • Shape the game play style. Every game has a style of play that appeals to different types of player personalities[2]. For Bing, we are striving to create an experience that is cooperative and supportive. Bing is not a competitive environment where for one person to win another must lose. Searching is inherently an activity for explorers who want to learn about the world, and for achievers who want to get things done. As we fold in more data from Facebook and elsewhere, search is also becoming more social and interactive.
  • Deploy game mechanics. ¬†There are many game mechanics that game designers use to drive participation[3]. Here are a few that are relevant to Bing and we can use to design our experiences.
Mechanic Description
Achievement Achievementsare a virtual or physical representation of having accomplished something. Achievements can be easy, difficult, surprising, funny, accomplished alone or as a group. Achievements are a way to give players a way to brag about what they’ve done indirectly as well as add challenge and character to a game. Achievements are often considered “locked” until you have met the series of tasks that are required to “unlock” the Achievement.Example: Badges in Foursquare for checking into locations
Appointments Appointment Dynamicsare game dynamics in which at a predetermined times/place a user must log-in or participate in game, for positive effect.Example: In Farmville, players are required to return to harvest their crops after a specific amount of time has passed after planting. If they do not return within the specified time period, their crops can rot and the player will not earn the value for harvesting the crop
Cascading Information Theory The theory that information should be released in the minimum possible snippets to gain the appropriate level of understanding at each point during a game narrativeExample: showing basic actions first, unlocking more as you progress through levels
Community Collaboration The game dynamic wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a riddle, a problem or a challenge. Immensely viral and very fun.
Countdown The dynamic in which players are only given a certain amount of time to do something. This will create an activity graph that causes increased initial activity increasing frenetically until time runs out, which is a forced extinction.
Discovery Also called Exploration, players love to discover something, to be surprised. This also can be seen in the Game Feature, Discovery. Discovery encourages players to discover new pages within a website. This drives up page views and time-on-site.
Levels Levels are a system, or “ramp”, by which players are rewarded an increasing value for a cumulation of points. Often features or abilities are unlocked as players progress to higher levels. Leveling is one of the highest components of motivation for gamers
Loss aversion Loss Aversion is a game mechanic that influences user behavior not by reward, but by not instituting punishment.Example: Points expire if not engaged after 6 months
Points Points are a running numerical value given for any single action or combination of actions. Points can drive users to participate in activities. Weighting points (giving more or less) around specific activities can motivate players to participate in those activities if players have been given a reason to care about points
Progression A dynamic in which success is granularly displayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks. The progress bar towards next achievement
Victory Define the point of the game and how to win.
Virality A game element that requires multiple people to play (or that can be played better with multiple people)Example: Farmville making you more successful in the game if you invite your friends
Voyeurism and narcissism The desire to have what others have. In order for this to be effective seeing what other people have (voyeurism) must be employed. Create profile to showcase achievements. Profile is a mirror for self.  It is also a way to show off to others

[1] Motivation theory is broad. This is a brief summary of ideas relevant to Bing. See for notes on Cognitive Evaluation Theory, Reinforcement Schedules, and Expectancy Theory

Written by nealfreeland

May 31, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Bing Rewards now live on

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Last week we extended our rewards program from the Bing Bar to in the header. Search is a unique platform, designed to take a query entered by an individual and sort through billions of documents to return the most relevant content. It is unlike other web services that I’ve worked on previously, so it was a pretty big engineering challenge to create a service on top of this unique platform that could identify a single individual and give them credits for searching. Feels good to have shipped this.

Now that the hard architectural work is done, it’s time to start working on some new features. Stay tuned!

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April 24, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Great Budweiser Ad

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I really liked this Budweiser ad I saw today during the Seahawks victory over San Diego. I liked the emotion, the sense of anticipation, how the music built towards showtime (the game, party, concert, going out, bbq). I think the tagline РGrab Some Buds Рis a great double entendre: grab the beer, and grab some friends, and have some epic fun. Great ad.

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September 26, 2010 at 9:35 pm