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Every Picture Tells A Story: The Force Behind Bing’s Homepage & Brand Experience


Every day, Bing delivers a new image on its homepage. From natural wonders to historic landmarks, and many more awe-inspiring photos, the images serve as the entryway into the Bing experience.

“The homepage image has always been a part of Bing,” says Bing principal design manager Michael Kroll. “It was our first most differentiating feature and very quickly became the centerpiece of our brand and experience.”

Kroll should know. He originally joined Microsoft in 2006 as a brand strategist and was immediately tasked with naming Microsoft’s search product.

“My very first project was renaming search, a three-year process that taught me a lot, and resulted in us launching Bing in 2009,” says Kroll, who also named and led brand strategy for the Windows Phone and OneDrive.

“The homepage image has always been a part of Bing. It was our first most differentiating feature and very quickly became the centerpiece of our brand and experience.”

In his current role, Kroll leads Bing Studios Content Programming and User Research teams.

“We publish the daily homepage worldwide, track how real-time news events impact search intent, and constantly review how we’re doing at satisfying our users’ needs.”

According to Kroll, most of the images featured on Bing’s homepage are locked in about a month in advance, but some take longer. “We have an editorial calendar that looks at the whole year and we definitely start planning special homepages like Halloween and April Fools Day months in advance.”

Before coming to Microsoft, Kroll served as the creative director at Siegel & Gale. He spent his 20s making music, writing songs, recording records and touring the US — a time he thinks of as his graduate study for writing ethnographic and audience research, marketing, long-distance hauling and (very) small business.

Kroll was generous enough to answer our five most pressing questions about Bing’s homepage, including which ones were his favorites and who would be his dream contributor.

5 Questions For The Force Behind Bing’s Homepage

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Amy Gesenhues: Tell me more about the team that puts together Bing’s homepage and the process for selecting images.

Michael Kroll: We’ve got a team of folks whose responsibilities include everything from finding suitable images, preparing those images for publication, writing and editing hotspots and our backstage answer, scheduling custom images for publication in up to nine countries every day, plus an image for the general worldwide feed for other markets in the world.

Every month we have a meeting (my favorite meeting of the month) where we sit in a dark room and look at candidate homepage images. Anyone in the room can advocate for or vote down an image, but in the end, our managing editor picks what image will show up when.

The images that we pick have to elicit some kind of “wow” factor. Without that visceral emotional impact, there is little reason to run an image. We always talk about showing people something new or some angle that they have never seen before.

We try to stay away from recognizable faces and products, because we don’t want the image to ever feel like it’s an ad for something. This is one of the features that our users tell us that they love. And I believe it is because we treat the image as a gift to our users. A beautiful thing that we’ve found that we want to share.

Amy Gesenhues: What are some of your favorite homepage images?

Michael Kroll: The team knows that I am a huge fan of space imagery, and so I really have loved a lot of the images that we have run that feature interesting space topics.

I love these:

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Amy Gesenhues: What are your goals when it comes to Bing’s homepage. How do you hope it impacts users?

Michael Kroll: Before I worked in business, I was a traveling musician. As I told the team when I took over, I used to drive hundreds of miles to play to tens of people and with this page, every day, we reach millions of people.

We have an amazing opportunity to delight them for a moment in their day, to open up their minds to other possibilities. So my goal is for us to find new ways to create those moments of delight and I’d love for it to become an even more flexible storytelling vehicle.

Amy Gesenhues: Do you receive a lot of suggestions for the homepage from outside sources or work with external organizations often? What about submissions from inside Microsoft?

Michael Kroll: We do receive quite a lot of input and suggestions about what to run (and what not to run) on the homepage.

It is an interesting balance for us, and over the years we have identified a basic truth about image selection: “Every picture tells a story… that offends someone.” Some people hate to see bugs looking at them. Others never want to see athletes. It goes on. But over time, we have kept to a basic philosophy of wanting to inspire curiosity and delight in our users.

We have on occasion partnered with different outside organizations, like 500px to feature their community’s images as well. We’ve also run a few photo contests with our fans.

Bing Homepage Photo Contest Winner 2014

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As for folks inside Microsoft, they come in two varieties: individuals and business groups. We take and regularly publish submissions from the many, many fine photographers who work at Microsoft as long as they fit our general publishing standards.

Amy Gesenhues: Who would be your dream photographer or contributor to feature on Bing’s homepage?

Michael Kroll: We’ve talked over the years about connecting more directly with National Geographic’s stable of photographers because they have some fantastically talented photographers.

Of course, what I’d like to see us do is figure out how to run a 24-hour live feed from the International Space Station to the Bing homepage. Sure, it would be pitch black every other 45 minutes or so, but you’d also get 16 incredible sunrises and 16 beautiful sunsets.

Now the feature team is going to kill me.

 

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