Bing, Google’s biggest competitor in search, described in a blog post today that it was rolling out one feature that permits its users to enhance their search results using Facebook likes, and another feature called Facebook Profile Results.
The Liked Results feature allows users to bring their friends’ likes into the search equation. Users can opt to apply their Facebook friends’ likes to their Bing queries by clicking the Liked Results button on Bing. Then, when searches are undertaken, results that their friends have liked will be brought to the top of the page. For example, if I were searching in Bing for an ice cream shop in Fort Worth, and I typed “Ice Cream Shops Fort Worth” into Bing and enabled Liked Results, the ice cream shops my friends had liked would pop up on the top of the screen. It would be like I’d asked them for advice.
The second feature, called Facebook Profile Results, makes it easier for users to find their friends when typing their names into Bing. According to the Bing blog post, 4 percent of search engine searches are for people. In several instances these searches are users’ attempts at finding their friends. However, as the algorithms are currently working, the results are configured to bring up the links to Web sites that are the most likely to be clicked on by the greatest number of searchers. So, if I have a friend named Will Smith, and I’m trying to find him on Bing, most of the results that pop up will be for the famous actor/rapper. Bing’s Facebook Profile Results brings my Facebook friends into the equation. So, if I were to search under Facebook Profile Results, it would use my friends as a network by which to locate my friend Will Smith and bring him to the top of the results. No more actor/rapper. Just plain old Will.
Knowing that users would be concerned about porting their Facebook information into a search engine, the Bing post came right out with a privacy explanation. First of all, users have the choice prior to using the Facebook optimization to disable it. Second, Bing will only use information from Facebook that is set for public viewing. People searching for Facebook profiles will only see profiles of those in their network–those profiles that aren’t in your network will not pop up. Third, Bing will on surface profile and like information from users who are over the age of 18. Fourth, Bing ensures that all searches remain private–the people in your network cannot see your searches.
Now, a bit about the implications of this. This is the most definitive step that a search engine has taken into the social realm of the online experience. Looking into the future, as the use of search engines and smartphones become more commonplace, we’ll begin to see search engines trying to personalize users’ experiences more and more. This was a brilliant step to that end. People trust their friends. People are always connected to the Internet via smartphones. People need search engines to find things. Now, no matter where I am, New York or Los Angeles, as long as my friends have been there, used Bing to search, and used Facebook to like, I will be able to get their advice. It’s in that way that Bing’s move has opened a new paradigm. The fact that they did it before Google makes it an even stronger move. Also in the Blog post, Bing talked about how these features expanded the search engine’s partnership with Facebook. It’s unclear whether that means the deal is exclusive between the two companies, whether the deal is locking Google out. If it is, I would argue that Bing just pulled a game-changer.