Microsoft’s Bing Gets a Social Lift From Facebook

Bing will soon allow searchers to see results generated by their Facebook friends’ use of the “like” button on the social network, Microsoft announced today.

Microsoft Online Services Division president Qi Lu, left, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, speak in the Galileo Auditorium on Microsoft's Silicon Valley Campus in Mountain View. Photo: Facebook

Facebook and Microsoft announced a partnership on Wednesday that will give the results on Microsoft’s Bing search engine a social twist — and could help both companies compete against a common adversary, Google.

Microsoft’s Qi Lu, president of Microsoft Online Services, and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a press conference at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters to announce an extension of a long-running partnership.

The software maker began rolling out a new feature Wednesday US time that can show what someone’s Facebook friends “like” on the search results page.

The new feature allows people who use Facebook to see Bing search results that incorporate information from their friends, like restaurant recommendations.

When a user searches for something like a movie, place or product on Bing, information about how many of their friends “liked” that item on Facebook and related links they have shared will appear alongside the results.

The Facebook data will help determine how prominently these will appear, said Yusuf Mehdi, a senior vice president for online business at Microsoft.

“It isn’t just about the common connections between data and the offline world, it’s about the connections between people,” Mr. Mehdi said.

Mark Zuckerberg, a founder and chief executive of Facebook, said the move was a deepening of the company’s current partnership with Microsoft.

“This is just the beginning; there is going to be a whole lot more to come over time,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said at the launch.

At the launch, the firms showed an example of searching for a restaurant with results that included eateries Facebook friends liked.

“This is the long-awaited ‘social search’ that I’ve been talking about and waiting for years,” wrote analyst Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group. She said that the deal ‘hits Google right between the eyes.’

She continued: “Google has recently been making noises that it wants access to Facebook’s social graph, calling for the company to be more open.”

“That’s because Google realizes that unless it can harness social graph data, it will be relegated to traditional algorithmic search based primarily on the information on the web page itself and scraping what social data it can,” she added.

However, Danny Sullivan from SEO blog, said that he believed that the data used by Bing was currently ‘far from a killer feature.’

“Should it turn out to be, I’d expect Google to ramp up the pressure so that the data should be fully ‘freed’ to them and others – and perhaps strike a paid deal for access to it, in the way Google pays Twitter for its data.”

In 2007, Microsoft paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook. Since then, the two companies have worked together to introduce advertisements on Facebook and incorporate Bing Maps into Facebook’s location application, called Places.

Why Microsoft and Bing, which trails Google by a huge margin in search market share? Zuckerberg said he’d rather bet on the hungrier company.

“What makes Microsoft exciting for us is that they are the underdog. When you are an incumbent in an area, no matter how smart you are, there’s always tension between innovating on new things and preserving what you have,” Zuckerberg said.

Speaking of tension, there’s definitely tension between Facebook and Google as Google attempts to confront the growing amount of online advertising spending going toward Facebook, potentially limiting Google’s future growth prospects.

Despite heavy investment by Microsoft, Bing still greatly lags Google in terms of market share. Google has made several attempts to strengthen its social networking offerings and compete with Facebook.

At stake, analysts say, is the ability to know more about users, and to charge more for ads that are more effectively aimed at those users.

“Making search more social is ultimately going to drive more targeted advertising, which you can charge a premium for,” said Mukul Krishna, a digital media analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “Search hinges on that business model.” [via NY Times and Sydney Morning Herald]

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