Microsoft introduced an update to its Bing search engine today that includes a sidebar column containing related information from users’ Facebook friends.
The new Bing will gradually be rolled out to users, and those interested in getting it earlier can sign up here.
Bing users who log in with their Facebook credentials will be able to post questions to their friends on the social network while they search, and tag Bing-suggested friends who may be knowledgeable on the topic.
The search engine makes its suggestions based on information in friends’ Facebook profiles, their likes, and photos they have shared. The Bing Search Blog provided the following example:
If you’re searching for diving spots in Costa Rica, with the new Bing, you may discover that one of your Facebook friends knows a great spot, based on photos from their last trip to Costa Rica that they shared on Facebook. Or you might find a friend who lives in Costa Rica based on his or her Facebook profile. You and your friends can only see information you could already see about each other on Facebook.
The Microsoft-owned search engine also seeks out non-friends who may be experts on the topic, by combing through public blogs and content from social networks including Twitter, Foursquare, Quora, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Blogger.
The activity feed in the sidebar allows users to see all of their interactions, post, and queries, whether they are asking questions or answering them.
At a press conference to introduce the new Bing, Adam Sohn, the search engine’s general manager, said, as reported by CNET:
This notion of a query and Web results can become a conversation with your friends. It’s possible that this has a virality to it that drives this in a really interesting way. Best case scenario: This could really turbo-charge our growth. That’s the magic of Facebook.
People are as important as pages. People have become first-class entities in search, and it’s not trivial.
And Facebook Director of Platform Partnership Ethan Beard said, as reported by CNET:
Bing is leading us down a really exciting path. Bing has been really thoughtful, keeping the integrity of its core search page and giving you alternatives to reach out to people who matter to you.
A separate post from CNET traced the development of the sidebar column in the new Bing to a coding session that took place in San Francisco in late February, featuring 10 developers apiece from Microsoft and Facebook.
Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Search Program Management Derrick Connell spoke with CNET about Facebook Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg addressing the developers, saying:
Zuck said, “Don’t try to do social by building social on the side. Build it into the experience.” He said it four or five times. It was a clue.
Being as good as the other guy is not enough. Bing has to give Web surfers a reason to switch.
Speaking of a meeting with Qi Lu, president of Microsoft’s online services division, Connell told CNET:
I came away from the meeting with the understanding that if I couldn’t answer the question, “Why Bing?,” I wouldn’t be in the job for very long.
And mentioning a semiannual meeting with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Connell added:
He was probably the first person who said your friends are more likely to help you figure out things, rather than experts. It’s all in their heads. If you ask me about snowboards, I can go on for hours. But I’ll never write it down.
Mashable Editor-In-Chief Lance Ulanoff has been testing the redesigned search engine, and he wrote:
I’ve been running the new Bing for a few days now, and I can report that it more or less works as advertised. First of all, the search-results interface is the cleanest I’ve seen it in years. Yes, it looks almost Google-like. I tried a bunch of searches like “Barcelona,” “Tesla,” and “Broadway.” In each case, my “Friends Who Might Know” field in the social pane filled up with people who had, for instance, posted photos of Nicola Tesla, or liked the Broadway League. I was able to blend links and questions in the open field above and then post directly to my Facebook page, along with notifications to my individual friends and experts. No one has answered yet, but those seeing these queries were part of a fairly small beta group.
I noticed, by the way, that when I put in multiword queries, I got few, if any, “Friends Who Might Know” results.
In Facebook, I did have to install the Bing application. It defaults to sharing your posts with everyone. If you do a lot of searching, you may want to dial that down a bit.
If you’re usually logged into Facebook and often turn to friends for, say, travel or buying advice, this could be a useful tool for you. Microsoft contends that this is a natural way to find answers. They do not want to reinvent the Web, Bing execs explained, “We don’t have to own it to surface it. The beauty of the Internet is that you don’t have to be a social network to surface people, you don’t have to be a hotel to surface reservations.”
Readers: Do you think Bing’s new social sidebar will prove to be a useful search tool?