CNN used it for polling during the recent gubernatorial debates in Florida and on the "Magic Wall" on election night; Fox News uses it to follow the mood of the U.S. during the president's State of the Union addresses. Now Microsoft is launching its Bing Pulse real-time polling service as a free self-service beta that anyone can use to get feedback from their audience via phones and tablets during an event.
With 79 percent of people using a smartphone or tablet as a "second screen" while watching TV, and even at live events, to read email, play games, and post on social media, broadcasters and event organizers are looking for ways to keep attention on their content. Microsoft calls that "turning distraction into action."
Pulse lets users keep an eye on the mood of their audiences, with a single question that they can vote on throughout an event -- up to every five seconds -- and multiple-choice polling questions that can be asked at specific points. People vote by going to a Web page for the event, hosted by Pulse, that shows a live graph of votes and answers.
Event organizers see those results in more detail on the Pulse dashboard, including any demographics they've asked the audience to give. That can be as simple as gender and age, or it can include education, political party and other details, but all the voting is anonymous.
For broadcasters like CNN and Fox, Microsoft has worked with them to set up Pulse for specific events. The new service is designed to be simple enough for anyone to create their own Pulse, using the dashboard to fill in the event details -- which can include a hashtag -- and set up the questions they want to ask.
That might be asking for feedback on a conference keynote, to see when people are more or less interested in what's being said or which points they agree and disagree with, or it could be used for rating individual presentations. If a live event is streamed, audience response can be gauged, as well as how people are reacting in the room. Because the Pulse voting is time stamped, users can choose when the multiple-choice questions are asked, giving a clearer view of exactly what people are reacting to than is provided by looking at comments on social media.
Bing Pulse 2.0 is free while it's in beta, until the end of January. After that, the basic service will continue to be free, with a premium tier for event organizers wanting more features.