Bing and the Evolution of Social Search

One complaint that Internet users tend to lodge about Google is that the Web services company tries to force users into adopting all of its various properties to get the full range of benefits from using just one of them.

Of course, Google does this because it wants to keep as many people using all of its many services (search, Gmail, YouTube, Google+, etc.) as it can. For those that do use them all, Google provides seamless integration across its Web properties that allows users to stay logged in on all of the company's websites, while promising a personalized experience based on their pervious actions - no matter where they are at the time.

Bing's Social Adaptation

Microsoft's Bing search engine, which is still trying to catch up after Google's massive head start, has decided to take a wildly different approach to socializing the search process for users. Rather than trying to be inclusive and requiring users to stay within the confines of only its Web properties to provide a social, personalized search experience, Bing has decided to try to extend its social search capabilities as far across the Internet as it can; it did this by partnering with the undisputed biggest name in social media: Facebook.

With Facebook (and its 1 billion users), Bing is able to cast a very wide net across the social Web. After all, many websites now incorporate some sort of Facebook data, whether that's by including social login in its comment sections or just adding a "Like" button to a content page. This seemingly ubiquitous presence all over the 'Net is both Facebook and Bing's biggest asset against Google, and by combining one another's services (and user data), they may just stand a chance at providing an alternative, less-exclusive and potentially better social search experience.

While the Bing and Facebook partnership began when the search engine provided the Web search functionality for the social network, they have since done much more to integrate the two services. Now, Bing searchers can actually see recommendations and social signals from their Facebook friends as part of their search results by seeing what those other users "Like" or talk about relating to the search query at hand.

Graph Search: An Evolutionary Leap

More recently (as in last week), Facebook announced the beta release of Graph Search, a Bing-powered solution to let users search the content they have shared on the social network. This tool will help people discover information based on data that Facebook has collected from its users, allowing them to search across all of their Facebook content and connections to find new people, places and things.

But the real point here is that Facebook and Bing worked together to create "a unified search experience" that allows users to search beyond Facebook, showing Web search results from Bing that use "social context and additional information" (e.g. Facebook pages). For instance, when a Facebook user searches for something on the site, Bing results will show up alongside Facebook content with additional news and information that is annotated with data about how many people "Liked" and shared the contents of those search results on Facebook. In short, the social network has begun to integrate Bing Web search results into its site search results and combining them with exclusive Facebook data.

Looking Forward

Granted, this is still in an experimental phase for Graph Search, and it is in no way ready to compete with the combined efforts of Google+ and Google's Search Plus Your World socially personalized search initiative, but what is important is that it finally gives Bing something of a social edge on The Big G. By joining forces with Facebook, Bing not only has access to the social data of a significantly larger user base than Google+, but it also has a much larger group of websites and blogs that integrate Facebook services from which it can pull information and improve its search results.

Perhaps most important, however, is that the Bing/Facebook approach doesn't really require (Facebook) users to change behavior, as these new social search features are being integrated into each brand's regular services. This slow, less-obtrusive transition could help spur on the gradual, refined and, ultimately, more successful evolution of social search.