Microsoft, Facebook in social search deal

Bing will soon allow searchers to see results generated by their Facebook friends' use of the "like" button on the social network, Microsoft announced yesterday.

Microsoft/Facebook announcement

Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi, Qi Liu and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (left to right) discuss the new Facebook-oriented results on Bing. (Credit: Tom Krazit/CNET)

Microsoft's Qi Liu, 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 between the two companies to feature Facebook profiles and a "liked by your friends" section that takes advantage of the way that web publishers have implemented Facebook's "like" button on their sites.

"Over the last couple of years there has been a splintering of the web, dividing into the "topical" web organised around documents and the "social" web organised around people, Liu said. "We want to make social people first-class citizens of the search experience," he said.

Microsoft will start rolling out the features as of yesterday in the US, said Bing head Yusuf Mehdi. Bing users will see a little pop-up window in the upper right-hand corner of their screens that asks them if they want to link their Bing accounts and their Facebook accounts. If you decline the offer, your Facebook profile and likes will not be shown on Bing, Mehdi said, and you can also delete Bing from your Facebook applications if you decide later to exclude your data. Microsoft will show the reminder five times.

One aspect of the new integration will allow Bing searchers to see when their Facebook friends have hit a like button on a web page. Mehdi demonstrated how someone searching for information on a car could see the regular lists of results with an additional module entitled "liked by your Facebook friends", which will feature links to those pages with the profile photos of your Facebook friends who have chosen to share that info with Bing.

Zuckerberg and Mehdi confirmed that Bing is not sending search data back to Facebook, meaning that your Facebook friends won't know what you're searching for on Bing.

The announcement is just another sign of a deep partnership between Facebook and Microsoft, consummated back in 2007 when Microsoft invested US$240 million into the company. Bing powers the search results for queries on, Microsoft has sold ads on Facebook in the past and Bing Maps is the default mapping software for Facebook 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.

Still, later in a question-and-answer session, Zuckerberg acknowledged that over time, Facebook would be willing to share this information with other search engines. It's just that Microsoft is moving forward with this right now, he said.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land got an early look at the features, and pronounced them impressive but not game-changing. "The move offers a huge amount of promise, and perhaps gives Bing an edge that Google can't quickly replicate. But at the moment, this is no Google-killer," he wrote in a review of the service.


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