Microsoft will begin adding Facebook data to its Bing search results Tuesday, including the ubiquitous "like," in another bid to differentiate from arch-rival Google.
The deal was initially announced in October, but since then Google has upped the ante by adding its own form of social recommendations to search results, including a "plus one" button that allows users to vote up pages in search results.
The updated service will incorporate data from the largest social network, which has become a key arbiter of content on the web. For example, a user logged into Facebook searching for news on Bing would see links to articles that a friend may have liked. People searching for generic terms, such as "cooking," might see recipes their Facebook friends have annointed with a "like." Where a person's Facebook friends have not sounded off on a particular search term, they would see the most popular links from the collective Facebook community, redefining search altogether.
Adding social recommendations to the algorithms that determine search results is a significant development for Bing, and now considered a Holy Grail for online commerce. The question is whether it will make a difference among consumers. Bing lags behind Google with 14% share of overall searches in April, compared to Google's 65%, according to ComScore.
Google added its own twist on social search in April, including plus one and the ability to see recommendations from connections on Google platforms such as Gmail as well as Twitter.
Facebook likes, on the other hand, have been populating across the web for years and are the de facto currency of recommendation. Google has recently attempted to unearth socially relevant search results by linking a person's Google account to his Facebook identity through its Social Circle tool. According to Google's description of the service, "When you search, you can see relevant content your friends share on the web."
In an effort to deter users from engaging this feature, Facebook hired (then fired) PR firm Burson-Marsteller to pitch stories claiming Google's use of its Connect tool compromises people's privacy. The social network acknowledges it worked with the PR firm to pitch the media about Social Circle, but insists no smear campaign was intended.
Here, Bing is taking advantage of Facebook's Connect feature, which allows third-party sites to identify Facebook users on their page as well as identify which of their friends have recommended the site. Gawker, for example, shows a reader's Facebook friends who "liked" the popular gossip blog on the right side of its page. Users who have linked their Google account to their Facebook account would see websites their friends have liked that might be related to their search term -- provided their friends on Facebook have also authenticated their Facebook and Google accounts.
Another draw to Bing's Facebook-driven search is that it will include updates from companies on Facebook that may be relevant to the search term. A user searching for hotels in Los Angeles, for example, might see Facebook posts with offers from a hotel chain. Companies will not be charged for appearing on Bing, which might encourage big brands on Facebook to update more frequently.
Microsoft's relationship with Facebook goes back years, from several ad sales pacts and a $240 million investment. The question now is whether Google can get access to Facebook data or whether it even needs it. Given the PR dirty tricks Facebook was using -- and for which it was caught red-handed -- that seems unlikely.
Asked last fall if Google planned to add Facebook data to search, principal search engineer Matt Cutts said, "It would depend on whether that data were available."
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