Microsoft and Facebook moved to dissolve the barriers between social media and search Wednesday when the two companies announced tighter integration to create Bing Social. The announcement at Microsoft's Silicon Valley headquarters laid out features that will roll out this week, as well as in the near future.
The two companies will allow searchers to view "likes" and content on Bing generated by a Facebook friend. The tools, based on Facebook's instant personalization features, put members in control of the information shared when someone queries keywords on the search engine. Bing will highlight search results that friends in Facebook "Like." For example, those searching for a fish restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif. will get Bing results, along with those results of local "likes" from Facebook friends.
Bing also will rely on Facebook data to improve results when searching for a name of a friend, allowing the Facebook social connection to more likely turn up in the results than another with the same name. Social results will appear on the main search results page. The first five times a social search is performed, the user will see a notification window at the top of the screen allowing them to disable the features or get more information.
After five sessions, users who want to turn the features off can do so from inside Facebook's privacy settings. Clicking the Facebook icon in the top right corner of Bing will allow users to learn more about the features, including detailed instructions on how to disable them.
Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says during the next five years he expects that nearly every industry will become disrupted by someone building a great socially integrated product. He called search "one of the most important areas on the Web today," which got the Facebook team thinking about what social search would look like and the best partner to help the network's engineers build it.
"I have no doubt that a great social integration in search will do for search what social integration did for games, photos, groups and events," Zuckerberg says.
Walking through how Bing's Facebook features will allow people to remain in control of their data, Microsoft executives note that the tools will not store personally identifiable information (PII) about the search. (Those who want to take a visual look at how the social Web connects can log onto this dashboard through a Google account.)
Most recently, Bing powers Facebook search, but Microsoft's and the social network's partnership began in 2006. By 2007, Microsoft made a $240 million investment for a 1.6% stake in Facebook. Recent trades put Facebook's current valuation at around $30 billion, according to CNNMoney.com.
"There's absolutely no doubt that social data, which is highly personalized to each individual, will become part of every search we produce, making the results much more relevant," says Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "One could look at today's news as being modestly beneficial to Bing searchers, because although welcome, it's only a first step toward someone larger, complex and far more beneficial that what we see today."
Search engines have been pushing to integrate social into search, and today the online world got a look at some of the first major steps that Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been talking about for years.
Searchers will increasingly see more information being drawn from their social graph, so search results will become more customized toward individuals to "grow that into something far more powerful than what we see today," Ray says. "In the early days, search results were basic. We looked at names or pages and meta-tags and that's what drove search results."
But the results were being gamed by those who wanted to gain better search result rankings. So the results became more complex as they drew in more data. Ray says what we see today is a major step into true social search results, but that step is the first in a long journey.