Microsoft's Bing announced separate deals with Twitter and Facebook Wednesday that will bring real-time tweets and social media status updates to the search engine.
The agreement with Twitter has been in the works for several weeks to index real-time tweets matching search queries in results. Microsoft will provide the option to rank tweets either by the most recent or by the best match, where Bing takes into consideration a tweeter's popularity, content of the tweet, and other indicators of quality and "trustworthiness."
Bing will expand small URLs created with tools, such as bit.ly, to enable tweeters to understand the content people tweet. Rather than show standard search result captions, Bing will select the two top tweets to give users a glimpse of the sentiment around the shared link.
And while the feature is intended to give searchers and followers real-time news, some industry search experts want to know if Twitter can handle the back-end service calls through a database or application programming interface (API) connection as search overloads continue to bring down Twitter's site and #failwhale becomes more common.
"How effective the feature will become as a search channel remains unclear until we see how Bing ranks and indexes information," says Dave Harry, Reliable SEO founder. "At this point it's difficult to say what -- if any -- effect it will have on search marketers. For starters, Bing doesn't have a huge market share, which will make the impact limited. Beyond that, social search has been slow in greater adoption as well."
Search insiders point to Twitter's nofollow policy as the most interesting part of the agreement. Twitter updates have always had a nofollow code on them to prevent search engines from indexing the feed -- which makes Microsoft's deal with the company interesting, according to Rob Griffin, SVP of search and analytics for MediaContacts, Havas Digital. "The nofollow code prevents search engine crawlers from indexing the posts," he says, suggesting that the change will influence query rankings in natural search. "No one is really sure how Bing will pull the information. Maybe Bing's spider is manipulating the nofollow rule."
Microsoft executives aren't talking, but that has not stopped search experts from speculating. Griffin believes that Bing's spiders may have special permission to index the tweets, because that's pretty much the only way you can provide real-time search. And will Yahoo have access to those tweets once Microsoft Bing starts powering its back-end search? Well, that's something the industry wants to know.
Twitter's deal isn't exclusive with Microsoft, which has some guessing if Google plans to announce a partnership next.
In a research note, JP Morgan Chase Analyst Imran Khan explains that as people searching Bing's engine look for more real-time Web results, the partnership will help to improve the experience. "The real value of this deal to Microsoft is access to Twitter data, which includes valuable real-time data points, user-generated content and up-to-the-minute reviews and social networking," he writes. "We think this is one of the first times that a search engine will be differentiated through access to content. We think Bing will benefit from the right to index and display the tweets almost as soon as they are posted."
Khan dosen't believe that Microsoft's deal with Twitter will have a "material" financial impact on Google's revenue and earnings per share (EPS). It could, however, help Bing take market share. Google may potentially need to pay a licensing fee to access Tweet feeds on a real-time basis, as Microsoft did not disclose any of the financial terms of the deal.
Aside from the deal with Twitter, Microsoft also announced a partnership with Facebook, which gives those who search on Bing access to status updates that Facebook members make public. The Redmond, Wash. company invested about $240 million in Facebook in 2007. In exchange, Microsoft got a 1.6% stake.
Few facts are known about Microsoft's Facebook deal. The service will become available at a later date, a Microsoft spokesperson says.