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Bing adds more Facebook data to search results

Stefan Weitz, Bing's director, says Microsoft has moved most of Twitter's integration to its News section.
Stefan Weitz, Bing's director, says Microsoft has moved most of Twitter's integration to its News section.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bing wants to create a search experience that is unmatchable by Google
  • Microsoft says there's too much data for even machines to handle and sort well
  • Not clear yet exactly how useful social networking data will be for search
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(WIRED) -- Bing is weaving even more Facebook into its search results in a bid to create a search experience that is unmatchable by Google. Whether it's better is, ironically, a matter of opinion.

Bing first introduced a taste of Facebook into search results in October. But starting Tuesday, when you search Bing after associating your Bing account and Facebook accounts, you'll see more faces of your friends -- much as users have become accustomed to on sites like Yelp and Gilt Group.

Microsoft's Big Idea is that there's too much data for even machines to handle and sort well, and what they need is a little help from your friends.

Microsoft, a minority shareholder in Facebook, is betting that data from Facebook will make its search superior to Google's dominant search engine, which still commands about 65 to 70 percent of the U.S. search market.

WIRED: Bing friends Facebook

Both Google and Microsoft are already doing this with Twitter, but Stefan Weitz, Bing's director, said Microsoft has moved most of Twitter's integration to its News section.

"Twitter is more temporal than Facebook," Weitz said. "We didn't like how we saw other companies jamming Twitter into their pages."

While it's not clear yet exactly how useful social networking data will be for search, Weitz is a believer and he's pretty happy his 2-year-old search engine now has an advantage his competition is struggling to catch up with.

"Google doesn't have access to this data," Weitz said.

And Google probably won't any time soon, given the bad blood between the two Silicon Valley giants over data transparency and the fact Google is now intent on building a rival to Facebook's dominance over user identity online.

So, if you are looking for a specific site by searching (typing in something like "Wired"), you'll now get the usual top box, along with links to individual stories that have been liked by your friends.

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If you aren't logged into Facebook (or don't even have an account), you'll see the top stories liked by all Facebook users -- just in case the recommendations of a bunch of strangers matters to you.

For other searches, such as "iPad review," Bing will return individual page results. But to help you decide which sites are reputable, you'll now see which sites your friends have liked. If you want more information or want to ask one of these friends a question, you click on their profile photo and you can then send them a message on Facebook.

Other integrations include a new Bing toolbar that has a "universal Like button," that lets toolbar users easily "Like" a page that either lacks a "Like" button or has one that's hard-to-find.

Users searching for information on a city will also see a list of their friends who live there.

Weitz said he initially thought that latter feature was the "dumbest thing he'd ever heard of," because he knows which of his friends live in Portland.

WIRED: Google catches Bing copying

But in testing, Weitz grew to love the feature, since it turned out when you are searching for information you aren't thinking who you know in a place. The reminder feels like a serendipity, he said.

Bing's shopping search engine is also getting a "social networking" makeover. Now, users can narrow down choices of a new camera or pair of loafers to just a few, then quickly post to Facebook.

Users can post the choices to their wall, send to a group or direct them to just one friend to ask for advice on which one they should purchase.

Weitz says Bing is just making it simpler to do what many people are already doing, and there are often pages of comments after someone asks friends what item they should buy.

The challenge for Bing may simply be in trying to get users to see the new features. In order to see your Facebook friends, you'll have to choose to let Bing access your Facebook network, and so far only 20% of Bing searchers do so.

The question for Microsoft will then be: Will social search on Bing be compelling enough that Facebook users will tell their Facebook friends to ditch the familiar Google for something social -- or is search really better when you are all alone with just you and an algorithm?

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Copyright 2011 Wired.com.

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