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Microsoft wants to stick adverts in Bing chat responses

Hey Bing, help me find a new browser, er, AI chatbot

So much for a good thing: Microsoft's Chief Marketing Officer Yusuf Mehdi said Redmond is considering selling ad space in answers provided by the new Bing chatbot.

Mehdi says as much in a blog post published yesterday in which he shares that, while it's still in the discussion phase with its partner brands, Microsoft is mulling over a few different approaches: An expanded mouse-hover popup that displays additional links from a publisher alongside the link that's actually relevant to results is one possibility, as is "a rich caption of Microsoft Start licensed content beside the chat answer," Mehdi says. 

For those unfamiliar with it, Microsoft Start is a mobile app and the name given to the Microsoft Network's homepage feed of curated news items, weather and local information for individual users. 

"We're also exploring placing ads in the chat experience to share the ad revenue with partners whose content contributed to the chat response," Mehdi added. We're not sure how the general public will react to the news of more ads, but Reg readers are sure to be displeased – as you were when we shared news that ads were coming to the Windows Start menu.

Publishers worried about traffic dip from new Bing

In his blog post, Mehdi says publishers have expressed concern over how the new Bing will affect traffic to their sites. After all – if the chat bot can produce curated answers drawn from content it finds on the web, why visit the site that published the original content?

Those concerns aren't out of nowhere, either – according to a blog post Mehdi wrote earlier this month, the new Bing preview has attracted more than a million new Bingers, pushing the second-string search engine past the 100m daily active users threshold. Mehdi says that's a 6X increase from old Bing in just 30 days, and each one of those users is potentially getting answers they need without ever visiting a publisher's website or clicking on an ad. 

Search engines, Mehdi says, have classically played a big role in getting people the answers they want from the web, but "the new Bing is helping to better address people's search needs with new capabilities like chat, answers, and content creation."

Despite those concerns, Mehdi says that driving traffic to publishers is still a top goal for Microsoft, and that it's chatting with partners to ensure they don't get left behind. "These conversations are early days but we're hearing positive feedback as we look for opportunities to maximize these new experiences for the entire ecosystem," he adds.

As for how much Microsoft is thinking about users – well, that's another story altogether. Early accounts of new Bing's usability haven't been entirely kind, as the Reg's APAC editor Simon Sharwood shared earlier this month. The new Bing interface has been described as having a poor user interface that doesn't offer enough citations or links to related content, and while the plans that Mehdi shared could change that, they could just as well stuff popups and search answers with ads – not exactly an improvement. 

We've asked Microsoft more about its plans and will update this story if we hear back. ®

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