In a move that could potentially mean trouble for Google, Facebook has granted Bing with access to information from its 500+ million user profiles. Adding a social layer to Microsoft's engine marks both sizable expansion for the two giants as well as profound change to the way we search.
Search More Social
It's no secret that just about everything on the Web is becoming more social, and Search is no exception. This week's combo of Facebook and Bing highlights an expanding trend of trusting peers for opinions rather than companies.
Basically, it works like this: You search for something like "restaurants" using Bing. People in your Facebook circle will appear alongside regular results with the restaurants they've "liked" on Facebook in tow. This way, you can get recommendations from thosee you trust without actually having to ask them directly.
Your friends have liked lots of things all over the Web, and now instead of stumbling across a new movie or having to look at a friend's profile to see which restaurants they like, we're bringing everything together in one place." You'll type in something, say "Chinese restaurants in Seattle," and the results would include a segment saying "Liked by your Facebook friends." This doesn't just go for movies, bars and dining. If you're searching for some news story or blog, you'll see the ones your friends have publicly "liked."
The Privacy Issue
Some have mistakenly reported or assumed that the alliance will allow your Facebook friends to see what you've searched using Bing. Fortunately Microsoft isn't that dumb, and after a summer of privacy backlash, neither is Facebook. What's actually happening here is a feature very similar to what Google Social Search offers through Google by default.
For example, if I search "coffee" using Google, I'll get typical results -- the Starbucks website, a wikipedia about coffee, images of coffee -- but just underneath that I'll get my social results. These results consist of people I'm connected to (via popular sites like Facebook and Twitter) that have mentioned coffee, and a link to where it was mentioned:
Microsoft is merely playing up these results by including the things your friends have "liked" across their Facebook universe. "Bing can see no more about you than anyone who goes to your Facebook page can see," claimed Microsoft executives. "What you search on Bing doesn't get sent to Facebook."
Here's a demo:
Google vs. Microsoft
If you're wondering why the number one social network picked Microsoft over Google, you're not the only one. Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, offered a half-baked explanation at a recent Bing event: "They're just trying to rapidly gain share by doing awesome stuff. They're really the underdog here."
"This alone won't change the dynamics of search engine competition between Bing and Google," said Ray Valdes, analyst for Gartner. "Google will remain dominant, although likely Bing will gain a bit -- especially if it keeps following up with additional improvements."
Meanwhile, Big G remains the interested reject. "The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data," said Google chief Eric Schmidt. "Failing that, there are other ways to get that information."
The feature will be rolling out to users over the next few weeks. Once it's hit your area, all you have to do is sign into Facebook and then point your browser to Bing.com. Likely having learned from Facebook's one-time popup mistake, Bing will ask users to approve the integration the first five times they use the search engine while logged into Facebook. This is going to be annoying for some, but great if users happen to change their minds. Further, you can also go into your Facebook settings and disable the Bing integration at any time.