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."