Last week, OpenAI (the folks who brought you the wildly disruptive ChatGPT) announced that the AI chatbot will no longer be limited to data from before September 2021 (or in the case of GPT-4, from before January 2022). In fact, it will be able to browse the web and provide insights into current data. The only limitation? This feature is available exclusively to paying Plus and Enterprise customers.
In this article, we’ll explore exactly what the new ChatGPT Plus update does, plus a lot of what it fails to do.
TL;DR: It’s an odd beast, and it’s quite disappointing.
How to enable Browse with Bing
The new browsing capability is provided via a beta option called Browse with Bing. To enable it, you must be using ChatGPT Plus. Then go to the Settings menu, choose Beta features, and turn on Browse with Bing.
When you start a new session, you’ll have to decide if you want to run Browse with Bing, Advanced Data Analysis, or plugins.
As I discussed a few weeks ago, you can only run one option at a time, and you have to change to an entirely new session every time you want to change to a different option.
What exactly is Browse with Bing doing?
Neither Microsoft nor OpenAI are saying much about what Browse with Bing actually does. You may recall that ChatGPT’s browsing feature was available for a short time last summer, only to be disabled because it went a bit rogue, including bypassing paywalls. Now, it’s back, but OpenAI’s entire corpus of information on it is limited to a single paragraph.
For ChatGPT to have web access, it needs to do two things: search and retrieve. It needs to construct some sort of search string or strings from the prompt given and then pass that search string to a crawled index of the Internet. Clearly, this is where Bing comes in. Bing, like Google, has a representation of the entire Internet in its indexes and can return search results.
Next, ChatGPT must be able to retrieve the contents of web pages based on their URLs, extract the content from the ads, process the content in context, and provide answers to the prompt giver.
All of this usually works in the background, via APIs and calls. I assume that Browse with Bing in ChatGPT does the same thing. But, oddly enough, that’s not how it’s represented.
I issued a query that caused Browse with Bing to look on ZDNET for some information. Here’s a rundown of the notification screens I got during that interaction:
What’s weird about this is that Browse with Bing says “Clicking on www.zdnet.com,” as if it were actually clicking a mouse. Then it says “scrolling page” as if it were actually scrolling the page.
It’s highly unlikely that this feature is implemented with a bunch of robot screens and mice actually clicking on pages. So why indicate progress that way? Is it some attempt to consumerize or dumb down notifications for the Bing audience?
It doesn’t hurt anything, but it’s strange.
Browse with Bing vs WebPilot
I’ve been using ChatGPT Plus to access current Web information for months now. At first, I used the MixerBox WebSearchG plugin, but found that to be unreliable. For the past few months, I’ve been using the WebPilot plugin and have been quite pleased.
Does Browse with Bing bring anything to the table that WebPilot doesn’t? Nope. In fact, it’s more limited. A lot more limited.
To demonstrate this, I’ll share three tests. Each test compares the results of Browse with Bing inside ChatGPT Plus to WebPilot running as a ChatGPT Plus plugin. Because you can’t run Browse with Bing and WebPilot in the same session, all of these tests were run in separate sessions.
The first two tests used ZDNET as a test environment. For the third, I tasked ChatGPT with analyzing a breaking story in the news.
Finding an article reference
My test was to see which of the two add-ons could find that information, given the prompt “what does gewirtz mean by infraquake.” Note that I didn’t tell ChatGPT that this was a ZDNET article, nor did I tell it which Gewirtz I was referring to.
Here’s how Browse with Bing responded (the first time):
As you can see, Browse with Bing had no idea what I was talking about. However, WebPilot found it quickly:
Some time later in my testing, I once again asked the Browse with Bing add-on and this time, it found both articles.
Interestingly, Browse with Bing does provide a footnote reference for source information. However, note from the screenshot that while it discusses two articles, it only provides one source citation.
I should mention that one of the benefits of Browse with Bing is supposed to be source citations, but I found that a number of my tests ran, provided information, and did not provide a footnote link for source data. So it’s not consistent.
Comparing writing contexts
This next assignment was more complex. Let me give you a bit of background. Both Sabrina Ortiz and I write about AI for ZDNET. We both cover it from different angles and I wanted to see if ChatGPT could ascertain our respective approaches. We both have author pages, which list our articles. So I fed ChatGPT this prompt:
Here’s the result. The difference couldn’t have been more stark. Not only does WebPilot provide a profile and some recent articles, it actually compares the types of articles we write. On the other hand, Browse with Bing fails to find any content to compare.
The failure of Browse with Bing in comparison to the excellent job of WebPilot is rather astounding.
Briefing on current news
The WGA writers’ strike was settled just last week. I asked both tools to “Give me a complete briefing on the status of the writers’ strike.”
As you can see, Browse with Bing did provide some value here. But it’s not nearly as comprehensive as the reply from WebPilot.
Next, I wanted to see if the AI could describe the details of the final agreement. I asked, “Describe the deal.”
As you can see, Browse with Bing provided a truncated but still relevant answer. However, the more detailed information provided by WebPilot is substantially more useful.
What does it all mean?
The bottom line is that Browse with Bing is disappointing. Fortunately, WebPilot does everything that you would have expected from Browse with Bing, so good web search functionality is available to you already. Browse with Bing is just a weird little extension that seems mired by… something… maybe too many Zoom or Teams meetings and a ton of intra-organizational compromise?
ChatGPT with Browse with Bing is meh. It doesn’t make anything new possible. It doesn’t do anything better than any other solution. My best description is that it’s a web summarizing tool that just phones it in.
It’s still in beta, so maybe it will get better. Until then, give it a pass.
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