How to Get the Most Out of Microsoft Bing Maps and Photosynth

Alan Fackler

Don't let Google scare you into thinking they're the only search engine out there.  Microsoft's Bing offers users a solid, user friendly engine with a ton of features that set it apart from the competition.   In this article, we're going to dissect Microsofts patented search engine and bring you some basic tips to help get you started.  We'll also run you through some of Bings more distinct features, including 3D map capabilities and Microsoft's Photosynth system.

General Tips:

Summary Text - Did your latest search turn over far too many results?  Don’t fret, just use the Summary Text Icon located at the far right of available links for a brief summary of the article, so you can make a much more informed decision before commiting to a link.

Related searches - Keep an eye on the left hand side of your screen, as Bing will often show you related searches in case you’re having a bit of trouble finding what you’re looking for.  Keep in mind that your browser most likely comes configured with an RSS button of some sort that will help link you to any available RSS feeds within your search parameters.

Use Bings Home Page- Bings home page dynamically changes on a day-to-day basis, often showcasing strange and exotic places and animals.  There are a handful of clickable icons strewn throughout these images that offer a bevy of random information about the posted picture of the day.  If you're a random knowledge fiend, Bings homepage can entertain you for hours.

Set your Preferences- Access Bings preferences menu by clicking Preferences on the top right corner of the homepage.  The preferences page allows you to restrict content, change language settings, and even choose the amount of search results displayed per page.
Refine your Image Search - If you’re searching for images through Bing, make sure to explore the image options located on the left-hand navigation to find the image you need quicker.  Click and customize how you want your images to appear; choose from different layouts, sizes, colors and styles.  If you’re searching for specific types of portraits, you can have Bing search only for faces, or images that include both heads and shoulders.

Notice the image tweaks that can be made on the left hand side of the browser.
Utilize Bing Video Features: Bings video interface is very accessible and fun to use.  Sorting and finding TV or movie related videos is quick and easy; results can be sorted by channel, box office popularity or season.  Music related videos can be searched by artist, genre and popularity as well.  Curious about a video but don’t want to view the whole thing?  Bing allows you to scroll your mouse over the video icon to watch a brief thumbnail preview with audio and a written summary before commiting to the jump.

Scroll over videos to watch a brief clip with audio and a written summary.

Track Companies From Internet Explorers Tool Bar: Keep a close eye on the stock market?  Need to follow your money throughout the day?  To track critical stocks, punch in the abbreviation into the search bar (i.e. Microsoft= MSFT) to bring up the latest news on that particular stock, updated every half a minute.  Don't want to keep navigating back to Bing to keep up with the latest financial news?  Simply drag the search result into your browsers search bar bar, so you can click it no matter what website you're currently browsing.

Clicking on your newly created  toolbar tab can help you keep track of important stock information no matter where you are on the web (This feature only works with Internet Explorer).


Bing's Map services are actually a lot of fun to use, and offers new and customizable features that set Bing Maps apart from its opponents. The default viewing mode upon opening up a map is Automatic view, which actually works quite well.  This option allows Bing to decide which view to use to help you properly find and view any continent, state, or city you’d like from a variety of available perspectives.

Find the Place You’re Looking For- Use the search bar to enter in virtually any address and Bing Maps will take you there in real time.  You can also search states, regions and cities via the pop-up menu located on the bottom right of the interface.

Type in any address in the search bar to have Bing Maps locate it for you in real time....

...Or use the pop up menu to search by state, county, or city blocks.

Choose Your Perspective- Once you’ve gotten a closer look, we’ve found the Birds Eye option gives the most concise picture, skewing the camera at a slight angle to give the image a bit more depth.  Watching the different modes dynamically shift between viewpoints is also a very cool aesthetic as well.

Go StreetSide- The StreetSide tool is also very intuitive - it allows you to grab and place a marker in busy areas, which pulls the camera street side, giving you the ability to virtually walk along the street as if you were there.  This feature is only available in downtown and populated areas,because would you want to walk the dusty outskirts of Vegas when you could walk the strip?

Speaking of Vegas, here we have a nice view of the MGM Grand, which I searched for in the search bar to the left.  Clicking on the blue icon on the bottom center of the screen will allow us to go street side.

Now we're street side.  Notice the blue magnifying glass on the right hand side of the screen?  That's  your mouse, which is now a magnifying glass that can be used to zoom towards any given landmark within frame.  If you would like to move away from your current location, drag your mouse over to the corners of the picture until the magnifying glass icon changes to a running man.  This indicates that the camera will actually shift its position, instead of simply zooming closer.

Utilize Map Apps- The bottom left of the interface offers quite a few options as well, including a handy Explore tab that offers  up-to-the-hour traffic information, restaurant and hotel locations, and other nearby landmarks.  Below you’ll find a Map Apps tab that opens to reveal a plethora of available third party and in-home apps, including Roadside Attractions, Signs and Billboards, Urban Murals, and Microsofts own Photosynth, a visually awesome feature that we’ll touch on a bit later.  These apps can be sorted by categories, located in the top right corner of the Map Apps window, such as recommendation, title or publisher.

Bing 3D Maps- Bing Maps 3D is a open source program available for download at Bings maps page.  The software defaults to Internet Explorer; a slight setback if you're a frequent Firefox or Chrome user.  Overall, Bing Maps 3D works a lot like Google Maps but with a handful of innovative features that really improve the user experience.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s get to know the interface.  Bing Maps 3D defaults to a 3D globe.  Just as with the regular Bing map, your mouse scroller will zoom in and out and your left mouse button navigates.  Since you’re now working in three dimensions, holding CTRL will allow you to change your angle of vision.  There’s a slight learning curve to mastering the controls, mostly because the perspective change controls are inverted, but it should become second nature within a couple of minutes.

A 3D digital recreation of downtown San Francisco.

In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, there are some really awesome features available in your tool box that allow you to check traffic congestions along nearby roads, print or send your map to a friend, or find directions mapped out in 3D.  These options are located at the bottom left of the screen.

Checking downtown SF traffic using Bing Maps 3D.  The 3D toolbox is located on the bottom left corner of the screen.

Use Photosynth- Photosynth is a new feature from Microsoft and is definitely worth checking out.  A Photosynth is essentially a compilation of photographs taken from different positions that allow you to see all angles of a given landmark .  The technology implemented in order to streamline this effect is visually extremely impressive and is also a great way for you to tour your surrounding environments, not just locally, but world wide.  Ever wonder what the Eiffel Tower looks like, up close?  Or what the view from the Eiffel Tower looks like?

There are two ways to access Photosynths.  To find all of the surrounding Photosynths in your area, simply head over to your Map Apps and select Photosynth.  Once the App is open, you can also search for Photosynths using the search bar (i.e. Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, etc).  The map will take you to the landmark in real time and offer you a series of different Photosynths for that given location.

The thumbnail images represent available Photosynths surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge in the center of the map.  Not every available Photosynth has its own image; each of the green icons represents a different Photosynth.

What's more, you don't even need to specifically search for landmarks.  Part of the fun of discovering Photosynths is simply finding them strewn throughout random places.  Some of the coolest Photosynths I found in San Francisco weren't famous landmarks at all, they were just  random spots with some amazing views.

This is a Photosynth of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  The photosynth can be navigated by clicking virtually anywhere on the image, or by using the control panel located along the bottom of the screen.  Dragging your mouse over different parts of the bridge will create selection squares around seperate sections, which is a cue for you, the user, to know where you'll be moving the camera.  The mouse in this image, for example, is fixed on the bridges arch.  Clicking that particular section will move the camera in closer, creating an image within the defined parameter of the selection square.

The image now zooms in real time on the arch selection.  You'll notice that different selection squares become available for further zooming.  Playing with these selection squares is key to navigating any given Photosynth.  Like Bing's 3D maps, clicking on selection squares to the far left or right of the image allow you to radically alter your position, changing perspective for a different angle of the subject.

Here, we've used the selection boxes to actually steer the camera into a different perspective.

When you type in a landmark, like, say, the Golden Gate Bridge, Bing will take you to the general area on the map, then give you a couple of options in regards to what you’d like to do with the location.  The Photosynth option is usually labeled Dive into Photosynth and is located on the left hand side of the search bar, next to available pictures that can also be clicked and open if you’re simply looking for stock images of the location.

Once you’ve accessed a photosynth, you aren’t limited to only that collection of photos.  Click over to the Other Photosynths Nearby tab to browse tons of different folders containing photos from different angles, at different times during the day.  There are an endless amount of Photosynths scattered throughout the world, so venture forth on a journey of discovery!

Part of the fun of Photosynth is the sheer numbers of available material to click on.  Though there are only a couple of sample photos in the picture above, every single green camera icon is actually a seperate Photosynth uploaded to Bing from a different user.   Mouse over any of these icons to see what the landmark is and how many photos make up that particular Photosynth.

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