Friday, October 15, 2010

Facebook and Microsoft partner on new social-search features

Microsoft and Bing are partnering to “make Bing search more social.” In Web 2.0 speak, the idea is search graph + web graph = better answers.

Microsoft and Facebook execs outlined their latest people-focused search work during an event on Microsoft’s Silicon Valley research campus on October 13.

The main idea is to improve Bing results’ relevance by using Facebook Instant Personalization. And to improve Facebook’s Web-search results that are powered by Bing. From the Facebook explanation of today’s announcement: “When you search for something on Bing or in web results on Facebook (powered by Bing), you’ll be able to see your friends’ faces next to web pages they’ve liked.” (Don’t worry: You can opt out.)

The actual deliverables from today’s announcement are two new social search features Microsoft and Facebook developed in tandem. They will begin rolling out to users on October 13 and will continue to populate in “the coming months.” The features are “Liked Results” (recommendations from their Facebook friends that are built on Facebook’s public “Like” feature) and “Facebook Profile Search” (which will provide user-search results based on their relevancy to the searcher’s Facebook network and friends.)

Microsoft researchers have been working on these kinds of social-search concept for a while. The first reference I could find was a Microsoft Research project codenamed “Nocturnal.”

“Nocturnal that aims to use an established online community to provide a mechanism for giving reviews and recommendations from your social circle a higher priority when you search the Web,” explained an article on the Microsoft Research web site from 2007.

More recently, Microsoft researchers published a white paper entitled “A Comparison of Information Seeking Using Search Engines and Social Networks.” (Microsoft shared the paper at the SMX East conference earlier this month.)

The Microsoft researchers conducted a study in which 12 participants posted a question to Facebook while simultaneously trying to find the answer to the same question using Web search. The result? “Search engines and social networks each provide value at different stages in the search process.”

I’d agree with that assessment. Some queries I wouldn’t mind asking my Facebook “friends.” What’s the best place for Dim Sum in San Francisco? Sure, I’d want to see what my Facebook friends think.

Some queries I wouldn’t trust to those friends. No offense to my “friends,” but my Facebook account is a work account and while it includes some people I would call “friends,” many of the folks I’ve accepted I’ve never met. I don’t know them and they don’t know me. They’re folks who follow my coverage of Microsoft. I don’t want to know which movies they think I should see or which iPad case I should buy.

From what the executives said at today’s press conference, it sounds like Microsoft and Facebook have other jointly-developed search tricks up their sleeves. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a passing reference to another maps-related one, with no details.)

I see today’s announcement as indicating even more clearly that Bing and Facebook are taking different paths with search. Bing is definitely optimizing for the everyday consumer’s search habits. ut I am not the typical search user: I typically use search as much, if not more, to find specific quotes at press conferences, technical articles and other general-search results. I still find the best results for these kinds of research queries on Google, not Bing.


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