One would suspect that generative A.I. chatbots, like Microsoft’s Bing chatbot, would keep users from visiting other websites—after all, the bot answers your questions directly, so what need is there to click a link?
But that’s not actually the case, according to Jordi Ribas, the corporate vice president of Microsoft who oversees search and A.I. “As we look at the overall traffic that we’re sending to publishers, it’s actually increased with the new Bing because people are engaging more,” Ribas said Tuesday at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Deer Valley, Utah.
In the months since Bing incorporated OpenAI’s GPT technology into the search engine, total traffic to Bing’s suggested websites has grown, Ribas said. Contrary to what was previously suspected, Bing chatbot is actually increasing the traffic sent to publisher websites, not taking away from it by suggesting original content, because of the links included with the chat.
It’s still early for the chatbot, but Microsoft is working with publishers and experimenting with new interface design and other techniques to continue to grow this interaction and steer users to publishers’ pages, Ribas told the conference audience.
“To really be successful, we need the publisher and the advertising community to be successful. That’s how the ecosystem works,” Ribas said.
Advertising is at the heart of the internet search business, generating tens of billions of dollars every quarter. Monetizing the new format is crucial for both Microsoft and search rival Google, as they seek to preserve their lucrative search ad businesses and explore new ways to profit from user searches.
So far, Microsoft is working hard to be a leader in the generative A.I. revolution. It was a pioneer of A.I. chatbots with the release of Bing Chat, but it also became something of a cautionary tale after some users reported eerie and problematic interactions with the unpredictable chatbot.
The company has also invested $13 billion into OpenAI, the developer of ChatGPT, and developed plans to integrate OpenAI’s models into its products. Bing Chatbot uses a version of OpenAI’s GPT4 in the search function.
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella notably commented on Google’s race to catch up to their chatbot.
“At the end of the day, [Google is] the 800-pound gorilla in this,” Nadella told The Verge in February. “I hope that, with our innovation, they will definitely want to come out and show that they can dance. And I want people to know that we made them dance.”
While ChatGPT’s traffic recently fell for the first time since its record-setting growth, there’s no strong evidence of Google Search losing ground. Google’s Sundar Pichai, which also launched Google’s Bard with tepid success, has said that the company is more ready for the AI shift than it was for the shift to mobile when Apple released the iPhone in 2007.
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