Mikko Ollila Interviewed by Eric Enge
Published: June 27, 2010
Mikko Ollila is a senior product manager working on Bing Local. He is responsible for defining the value proposition and driving the business strategy for Local Search. Ollila first started working at Microsoft Corp. in 2006 with Microsoft Dynamics as a product manager overseeing supply chain ERP offerings. He joined Bing in 2007, where he became responsible for product management, planning, research and value proposition development, first for toolbar products and then Bing local search.
Before working at Microsoft, Ollila spent five years working as a software consultant and product manager at Manhattan Associates Ė a supply chain software company based in Atlanta. He graduated from the Clarkson University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and a Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems. He later received an MBA from Yale School of Management. Outside work, Ollila enjoys good coffee, skiing and HBO.
Eric Enge: Can you tell us what you do at Bing?
Mikko Ollila: I work in Bing product management, and I focus on local search. What that means is whenever someone does a search for something where geographic location or orientation is important, the experience that ensues is my responsibility.
To give an example, if someone searches for Sushi in Seattle, the ensuing experience at Bing is locally-oriented, and that's where my work and my groupís work are focused. Functionally, I work in the marketing organization, so we look at both the business of local search as well as the product that produces those business results. We are involved in product planning and the overall local business for Bing.
Eric Enge: Does that responsibility for local search extend outside the Maps product?
Mikko Ollila: Much of local searching is done on the search engine itself and is expressed on the search results page in the form of an instant answer. How we display local instant answers, what they look like, and what they point to is the focus of what I do. We typically think of those as entry points into the more immersive mapping experience.
Eric Enge: Assuming the user hasnít found their answer yet, are these entry points a strong drive to bring them into the local interface itself?
Mikko Ollila: Local is interesting in that way because we do a great job on search. We don't send that much traffic to our mapping experience. We try to balance the search experience and the mapping experience, in favor of the consumers. Our aim is to only send requests that make sense to our mapping site; otherwise we try to answer the query through the search results page. Itís a balancing act.
Eric Enge: Could you give an overview of what Silverlight is and the benefits of using it, especially as it relates to local search?
Mikko Ollila: Silverlight is a visually-oriented web application framework from Microsoft. It allows developers to easily create sophisticated visual experiences, much like Flash does. Silverlight allows websites and web developers to create something beautiful instead of the more traditional HTML look and feel of pages loading.
A lot of local experiences on the web have videos, imagery, reviews, and maps stitched together in a choppy way. Users are looking for a way to weave all of those valuable elements together into a cohesive flow and that is the aim of Silverlight.
If they are looking for a restaurant, and want to find a theatre next to that restaurant, the goal of this visual technology is to create an experience where they can walk around as if they were there. In a visually appealing way, they can explore a neighborhood, and find points of interest they want to visit.
Eric Enge: Do you have an example of a search that highlights this?
Mikko Ollila: My favorite search is Six Arms in Seattle. To see what I am talking about though, make sure you have Silverlight enabled. You can do this by going to http://maps.bing.com and searching on "Six Arms in Seattle". Notice over on the left is a link labeled "Streetside", and click on that.
We also highlight what is nearby really well in Bing Maps, and Silverlight allows a person to dive into a place of interest and use the Streetsideimagery to experience it as if they were walking on the street. The imagery and the Streetside experience are powered by Silverlight and show where all the points of interests are. If I was going on a date, and wanted to know where I was going, I could take a quick cruise through with Bing Maps, open neighborhood, and run a sequence of events before actually doing it. So, my evening goes that much smoother.
Once the search term is chosen, Bing creates a picture of a 3D World. Then it zooms in to show actual imagery of that world to allow easy navigation of neighborhoods.
Eric Enge: I can see 300 East Pike Street.
Mikko Ollila: Click on the Map Apps button on the lower left. Then click on ďWhat's NearbyĒ:
Click on that and we will show a list of what's nearby. Once what's nearby is established, it paints those points of interests on a map.
Eric Enge: Yes, I see Victrola Coffee.
Mikko Ollila: Clicking on Victrola Coffee brings up a tag with a link to Streetside. This tag powers the transition from the aerial view into the actual Streetside experience. Now you are standing next to Victrola Coffee and you can cruise around. Look to the left, and Six Arms is right there. If the intention was to first go to Victrola Coffee, and then hit Six Arms, you could cruise through the neighborhood and see what it looks like.
I am not under the illusion that our competitors don't have similar technology, but if we do our job right, the technology we have definitely allows us to do a better job, with smoother more universal experiences than our competitors.
Eric Enge: Any other aspects of Silverlight you want to call out?
Mikko Ollila: Map Apps are a way for developers to easily and relatively quickly create stunning, experiences on top of our maps with the help of Silverlight.
Eric Enge: What about other key differentiators? Could you expand on Streetsideís geographic coverage?
Mikko Ollila: The idea is ultimately to have a virtual tour of the world. Today we cover most large metro areas where this technology and imagery is the most useful. We are expanding that coverage as we go and we have a map of our coverage at Bing Maps; all the blue areas are where our coverage is for Streetside Imagery.
Eric Enge: Do you see this being used extensively on mobile devices?
Mikko Ollila: It probably has more value on a PC right now because in a mobile situation, the person may already be looking at something in real life.
There is a whole other notion of what is called alternate reality or augmented-reality. Blaise Aguera y Arcas gave a demo at the Bing TED Conference of how to overlay experiences like this on a mobile device. It is possible to view a street through a mobile and have this technology recognize the location. It might overlay information from a different view into the scene it is presented with.
Eric Enge: Let's talk about other differentiators. Since we've been talking about mobile, so why don't we expand upon that?
Mikko Ollila: Mobile searching and local searching are tied at the head. The Kelsey group quotes that in the foreseeable future more local searches will be carried out from mobile phones than from PCís.
From that perspective we recognize and believe that mobile is going to play an increasingly large role in the local search. Although most of the underlying data draws on the same sources whether searching from a mobile or PC, itís important to consider the context of mobile when delivering local searches. Whether itís a telephone number or restaurants on a map, itís the same dataset on a PC or a mobile, but the experience itself may be different, so we have a mobile app which is available on Windows Phone, iPhone and iTouch, Blackberry and Sidekick devices . That's the main mobile Bing Local experience that we have.
Eric Enge: Can you give some examples of what you are doing that is different?
Mikko Ollila: Right now the focus with the Bing Mobile App is mostly on usability, and the general look and feel of the experience optimized for each device. We recently rolled out new social features for the iPhone app thatís unique to the Bing app. Now you can connect to and access your Facebook and Twitter accounts and see combined status updates from your friends from within the Bing app. Whatís better is that when you search using the app, youíll now see web results along with relevant results from your social network. So if you search for a movie, youíll see movie showtimes first, then anything your friends may have said about it next. This is also handy for local businesses or products where you want to see what your network is saying before deciding what business to visit. Last, when you find something you like using the app, you can easily share it with your network on Facebook, Twitter, or through email.
Right now itís a race to create more natural, more intuitive, and more powerful mobile applications that take into consideration the context of the searcher, and generate the right experience based on that context and weíve made a good start with these updates to the iPhone app.
Eric Enge: Do you foresee using location information extracted from mobile devices to automatically orient people to where they are?
Mikko Ollila: Exactly. The signal from a mobile device is a lot more precise than it is on a PC.
Eric Enge: If somebody is on Streetside and isnít sure where they are and they take a picture of something, could Streetside orient them and provide directions?
Mikko Ollila: In the future - yes, or better yet, if they look down that street through their mobile device, Streetside could show that street and paint into that mobile screen the chosen points of interest. If they are looking for a bathroom, it would tell them exactly where the bathroom is-- walk this way for 50 yards then turn right and you'll find a bathroom.
That's the level we are talking about in the future, and as far as mobile experiences go, it's a race to get there and produce differentiator experiences.
Eric Enge: Even though iPhones and other Smartphones have greatly reduced the issues with smaller form factors, there are still smaller phone factor issues.
Mikko Ollila: The challenging part of mobile is to account for the form factor issues. Because we are a search engine, we have to handle a variety of formats. These issues will continue challenge anyone who participates in this industry.
Eric Enge: There are several smaller but nonetheless quite interesting features like parking finder and gas prices mapping applications; could you talk about those?
Mikko Ollila: Those are examples of Bing Map Apps, which are being developed because people want to physically or geographically orient themselves to certain places or things of interest. For instance, a bird enthusiast on a business trip may want to know how far the bird sanctuaries are in case they want to sneak out of a conference one afternoon. A bathroom is another example. These two answers are deliberate because the bird example is something that relatively few people would care about, and the later example is something that most or all people would care about.
As a consumer product, we want Bing to account for what most people care about, but we also don't want to ignore certain niche groups of people. Both groups should be able to build experiences they care about.
The Bing Maps applications are a way for people to easily create spatially-oriented experiences around what they are passionate about. If there is a technology inclined developer who is also a birder, with the help of the Bing Maps platform , they can easily create a bird watching mapping application on Bing to delineate where the bird sanctuaries are and other information about bird watching.
Instead of us having to think about all the cool things out there that people might see on a map, we basically give the technology away for people to enable themselves and enable people like themselves to create those experiences. A parking app would be useful for most people and there is a good chance that applications such as those will become part of the core product. We'll continue to push the envelope and give more and more people mapping applications that are relevant so they can find all those things that they care about near and around them.
Eric Enge: Do you develop a lot of these Map Apps yourselves?
Mikko Ollila: We have developed some ourselves and we have partners that have developed others. We recently opened up the Map app experience to enable anyone to develop these map apps with the release of the Bing Map App SDK, announced last month.
Eric Enge: If someone wants to develop a Map App, do they have to apply or is there a process they go through?
Mikko Ollila: Yes Ė at TechEd last month, we announced the availability of the Bing Map App SDK, and developers can now download the SDK and start building, testing and submitting applications to Bing Maps.
Eric Enge: Do you have a partnership strategy?
Mikko Ollila: There are several considerations when partnering in local search. One is availability of data. There is no easy way to figure out everything that's out there in the world -- stores, points of interest, parks, rivers. There are a lot of business partners scouring the earth and collecting this data who then work with us to surface it on a map or in Bing Local. For instance, our basic partnership is with InfoUSA.
Eric Enge: They make 30,000,000 phone calls a year and validate that data through an intensive review process.
Mikko Ollila: As a technology company we would like to automate as much as possible. The ideal would be to somehow crawl the physical earth like we crawl the web, but today that's not possible. Today, we partner with InfoUSA, who makes millions of phone calls a year to get their data.
Mikko Ollila: Since no data source is perfect, and we would like to get as close to perfect as possible, we draw on several sources, and then we scrub, validate, improve, fill in gaps, and try to make the data as perfect as possible with as much confidence as possible. If the same business entity from five different sources looks exactly the same, that's a pretty good guess that it's right. If another business entity is missing data or has conflicting data then it's our job to resolve the conflicts, fill in the gaps, and ultimately show what we feel is the best estimate or best manifestation of that business perspective.
Eric Enge: I would imagine if a business has conflicting locations, your confidence in the data being accurate goes down, because ultimately you don't want to send someone an address and have them find that what they are looking for is not there.
Mikko Ollila: That's exactly right. While we could play the blame game, and say it's not our fault that we got wrong data from a partner, we don't have that luxury - it is our fault, and it is our responsibility. If someone got information from Bing and it was wrong then it's our responsibility.
It's very important from a consumer experience perspective that our data is right. In local search, this is a key competitive battlefield. The best way to disappoint and really anger a consumer is to show them inaccurate local data. The accuracy, freshness, and coverage of local data are extremely important.
As the data expands into verticals such as healthcare, or doctors, that's where generic data providers might not have great coverage. In considering how to get more in-depth and better coverage in a particular vertical like doctors or restaurants, we start thinking about partnering with expert data providers to get information on specific verticals.
Eric Enge: Iíve been advising people for a long time that in local search they need to make the investment to have their data consistent on the web. This has a big impact on their ability to rank for local search. If there are four businesses which have consistent addresses and two that don't, the search engine is only going to show the four because the person is going to find the store there.
Mikko Ollila: Bing shows the top five results on the search result page, Google shows seven. Using restaurants in San Francisco as an example, the goal is to make sure that the top five or seven restaurants that surface have high confidence and quality of data. If data surfaces where the phone number is wrong it's the search engines responsibility. Consequently a restaurant or any business that is worried about appearing in the Google 7 Pack or the Bing 5 Pack, should make sure that the consistency of their data is their first priority.
Eric Enge: Can you talk about what you are doing with Facebook?
Mikko Ollila: Microsoft and Facebook work on a lot together including Bing powered search on Facebook. Partners like Facebook and foursquare who have access to social updates and what people are saying and doing in the physical world are of interest to local search because we are always looking for what interests people.
For instance, in the case of foursquare, if a restaurant starts to get a significant number of check-ins, we interpret that as a signal of something going on with that particular business. Looking further and interpreting that data, our goal would be to create a user experience that highlights that in a certain way. Today there is a Bing Map App that shows all the businesses with foursquare check-ins.
That's one expression of what we can do with it. As a larger rule, the social network and social networking activity today serves as a signal of what is going on and a lot of the things that would otherwise difficult for us to scour and figure out, are expressed nicely in those social networks.
It tends to reason that reviews are very important. People like to review things today on places like Yelp and CitySearch. Our goal is to figure out where we get most of these reviews and show them on the search engine.
As online social networking becomes more commerce-oriented, people are starting to rely on reviews, not only from strangers, but from their friends and family. When such content starts to appear on the web in reasonable quantity, that becomes of tremendous interest to us in terms of showing our users how certain businesses are currently being reviewed and being interpreted by other users, including people they might know.
Eric Enge: Thanks Mikko!
Mikko Ollila: My pleasure Eric.
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About the Author
Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: https://www.stonetemple.com.