Microsoft search guru outlines big Bing changes

Qi Liu, president of Microsoft Online Business Services

Microsoft’s top search guy took to the Web today to show off a refreshed interface for Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Qi Lu, president of Microsoft’s Online Services Division, said the design better incorporates the user’s social media contacts in a new sidebar which brings in their Facebook and Twitter contacts’ relevant posts.

According to the accompanying press statement, the new Sidebar will bring the user more pertinent information on the search based on his or her contacts.

When searching on a topic, a list of Facebook friends who may know about it shows up in a light-gray sidebar on the right-side of the results page. Said Sandy Wong, principal development lead for Bing:

So if you query ‘Hawaii,’ user models in the network look at public information in your profile such as where your friends live or have lived, what they’ve liked on Facebook, and photos — and turn up a list of people who likely have information relevant to your query. You’ll still see search results for Hawaii within the traditional Web search results. But now you’ll also be able to consider the advice of your friends who may know something about Hawaii.

Microsoft is clearly taking advantage of its stake in Facebook (it invested $240 million in 2007)  in a bid to gain ground on perennial search leader Google.  But despite billions of dollars and man-years of R&D work to date, Bing hasn’t made much of a dent in Google market share. In Comscore’s most recent numbers,  Google accounted for 66.4 percent of U.S. searches in March, compared to 15.3 percent for Microsoft.

The Facebook and Twitter integration could be viewed as a response to Google Search plus Your World which brings a user’s Google+ network into his or her search results. Bing’s Facebook/Twitter linkage will definitely frustrate Google, which very much wanted to incorporate Facebook posts in its searches. But it may also alienate users who already feel that Facebook has become intrusive.

As SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan points out, Bing goes beyond Facebook and Twitter to other social net tools like Quora and yes — even Google+ — to inform its results.

Many of the details have yet to be worked out, according to Microsoft executives at the event. Asked about if and how Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter will divvy up advertising revenue, there was no answer, for example.

The other two panes of Bing’s three-panel display are straight search results at left, then a “snapshot” column that appears when a user hovers over a given result that brings up visual results for things like restaurants, hotels, sights, or maps that are related to that result. That is designed to keep users on the Bing page where they can make a reservation or book tickets.

The Bing changes will show up broadly in the U.S. over the next  few weeks, Microsoft said.

The overall reaction to this new alignment is that Google pairs a dominant search engine with a social network no one cares about while Microsoft has bolted a search engine no one cares about to two social networking powerhouses. In other words: this could get interesting.

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