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Microsoft (s MSFT) today launched social search features for Bing created in partnership with Facebook. The two companies are teaming up to take on their common enemy: Google (s GOOG). The implementations are basic, but significant because they will automatically show up to all users of both Bing and Facebook.
Bing search results pages now include a “Facebook module” that shows Facebook activity by a user’s friends (their public “likes” of various topics on Facebook and around the web) related to the search term. This appears automatically if a user is logged into Facebook, an implementation of the company’s controversial “instant personalization” product. The module shows up higher in the page if Bing thinks the social results are relevant, or not at all if they’re not. Bing is also adding people search, which ranks results based on the closeness of a person’s relationships based on Facebook connections (this is what Facebook already offers on its site). So if you search for “John Doe,” the John Doe determined to be most likely to be your friend will be the top result.
“Search will be better because of your friends,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft SVP of online audience, speaking at a launch event at Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View, Calif. “It isn’t just about the connections of data, it’s about the connections between people.” Because of its dependence on the anchor text that describes what links are about, “Search is good at looking for sites, but not a person or knowledge,” said Microsoft President of Online Services Qi Lu. The goal of social search within Bing “is to ensure that people and the social relationships around people can truly become first-class citizens of the search experience,” Lu said.
Mehdi said Bing receives 1 billion queries per month for people, but users say they are satisfied with the results for people queries less than 20 percent of the time. He said that in addition to the social features launching today, Bing wants to add Facebook likes and user photos to all its search results, in addition to weighting of friends based on their expertise on a topic (look out, Q&A sites!).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at the announcement to give it weight, saying “the thing that makes Microsoft such a great partner for us is they’re the underdog in search,” and therefore motivated to make bold moves. Zuckerberg said he sees search as a more serious opportunity than photos or games, which Facebook has already been able to influence and improve through social integration. Facebook had searched for a social search partner, said Zuckerberg, and chose Microsoft in part based on the company’s existing relationship (Microsoft is an investor in Facebook, its on-site search partner, and has helped with ad sales).
Facebook has five instant personalization partners to date, including Yelp and Pandora. The Bing instant personalization implementation was completed in two months, said Dan Rose, Facebook’s VP of partnerships and platform marketing. Bing users who think Facebook instant personalization is creepy will be able to opt out by responding to pop-up messages the first five times they access the feature.
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