Windows Live, that is. Microsoft has found an interesting way to leverage the screen real estate behind the search box on their Live Search site. Similar to Ask.com, they have placed skins on the search page… with a twist.
As shown in the screen shot below, when the page loads, four boxes appear on the picture and then fade away. Mousing over those “hot spots” provides a tool tip with information related to the activity in the picture shown. Clicking on the box will take you to web pages with further research on the topic, or to search results on the topic.
I have heard several opinions on this feature and all have been critical claiming that it is useless, distracting, and will not generate many, if any, clicks. I beg to differ. While Ask.com’s skins do nothing more than place a picture behind your search box — the feature is fluff and does not work if you turn on AskEraser to search privately — Live Search at least does something with that picture and makes it functional.
This functionality is not required, but at least gives some meaning to the picture shown. It adds context to some beautiful photographs. I think it is intriguing, and I like learning more about what is going on in a picture that catches my attention. It’s like having your own personal tour guide. Even better, I can choose to ignore it and search as usual if I don’t have time to dilly-dally. It is unobtrusive.
It looks like the feature has disappeared from Live Search, unfortunately. It has been replaced with a static photo showing highlights from the Olympics with a standard caption. Not that highlights from the Olympics are a bad thing. Quite the opposite. I just hope the aforementioned feature comes back once the games are over.
There are still times when I simply prefer the plain, blank, minimalist simplicity of Google, too. It all depends on my mood. Microsoft may have received a lot of feedback that the hot spots were not well received, or perhaps traffic numbers indicated that the feature went largely unused. Whatever the case may be, we may never see the hot spot feature on Live Search again, and I think that’s a shame.