Do Bing’s New Facebook Features Make it a Better Search Engine Than Google?

    May 17, 2011
    Chris Crum

Bing has been steadily increasing its integration with Facebook, and while that’s likely far from over, they’ve launched some significant new features. We’ve written plenty about social search in the past, and from the comments we’ve received, it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there who don’t think there is any value in it. Others acknowledge that there might be value there, but still have a hard time finding it. Bing says half of people (based on its own research) say seeing their friends “likes” with search results could help them make better decisions.

Is there value to having info from your Facebook friends in search results? Comment here.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Yusuf Mehdi talks about the company’s line of reasoning on the Bing Search Blog:

“Research tells us that 90% of people seek advice from family and friends as part of the decision making process. This ‘Friend Effect’ is apparent in most of our decisions and often outweighs other facts because people feel more confident, smarter and safer with the wisdom of their trusted circle. A movie critic may pan the latest summer block buster, but your friends say it’s the feel good movie of the year, so you ignore the critic and go (and wholeheartedly agree). Historically, search hasn’t incorporated this ‘Friend Effect’ – and 80% of people will delay making a decision until they can get a friend’s stamp of approval. This decision delay, or period of time it takes to hunt down a friend for advice, can last anywhere from a few minutes to days, whether you’re waiting for a call back, text, email or tweet.”

With the new update, users will get more personalized search results on Bing based on the opinions of Facebook friends. You have to be signed into Facebook. “New features make it easier to see what your Facebook friends ‘like’ across the Web, incorporate the collective know-how of the Web into your search results, and begin adding a more conversational aspect to your searches,” says Mehdi.

What Exactly is Bing Doing?

  • Displaying “likes” from news stories, celebrities, movies, bands, brands, etc. in search results, where applicable
  • Displaying actual sites your friends have “liked” – not just individual pieces of content. Bing says if you’re looking for a TV, and you have a friend that has “liked”, you might see that in your results.
  • A very important element of this update is that it is actually influencing the rankings of content (on a personalized basis). Mehdi says, “Bing will surface results, which may typically have been on page three or four, higher in its results based on stuff your friends have liked. And, how often do you go beyond page one of the results?”
  • Bing is using Facebook data to show “well-liked content, including trending topics, articles and Facebook fan pages, from sites across the web”.
  • Bing is showing Facebook posts from brands when the brand is searched for. Search for Avis and you’ll see recent updates from the Avis Facebook page (in theory. I couldn’t get that to actually work).
  • Bing now has a feature that will let you have conversations with Facebook friends who live where you’re traveling.
  • They also recently launched a feature that lets you share shopping lists with friends.
  • When you search for a specific person, Bing will use Facebook to provide location, education, and employment details.
  • A “Travel Wishlist” feature lets you compare trips with Facebook friends, suggest new destinations, and learn more about locations. When you pick a travel destination, Bing will show you friends that live or have lived there.
  • If you “like” a city on Bing, Bing will send deals for flights to that city to your Facebook news feed.

Turning it on/off

The beauty of the feature is that if you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it. Just don’t sign into Facebook. It’s as simple as that.

For the first five times you use Bing in this way, you’ll see a note at the top right of the screen saying that it is using your Facebook friends, and has a link to “learn more” and a “disable’ button. You can always connect to Facebook again under the sign-in menu.

Will it deliver better search results?

There are plenty of questions that surround the execution of social search, which is probably why nobody has really gotten it 100% right yet. For example, should Bing be focusing on friends that have similar interests to you rather than your whole body of friends? Perhaps it depends on the query.

There’s no question that most Facebook users have friends they interact with more and some they don’t even really know that well. Maybe you’re friends with someone you went to middle school with and haven’t talked to since. Without measuring the level of friendship or common interests, can data from these more obscure “friends” really be valuable? If Bing found a way to identify the people you really interact with and/or have common interests beyond just being your Facebook friend, search results could improve for certain queries.

What’s missing?

As with some past Bing announcements, the execution doesn’t seem to quite live up to the hype. That doesn’t mean it won’t get better, but the features are not perfect by any means.

I do notice that “like” information is incomplete. For example, if I search for the band Converge, Bing shows me that I have two friends that like it, when in fact, Facebook shows that I have four friends that like it. This has to improve, because which friends like certain things can make all the difference in the world. This is a critical element of social search.

Facebook Likes in Bing

Facebook LIkes in Facebook - Different than Bing

I think I still prefer the Wajam approach to social search. They add all of the stuff from your friends right at the top, so it’s always easy to distinguish it from the natural results. It’s also easy to get a friend-by-friend break down on any given query, and see which friends have mentioned certain things.

In fact, that’s a big element still missing in Bing’s experience, as far as I can tell. Conversations happen on Facebook itself. It’s not all just people liking content around the web. My friend that lives in Chicago may have mentioned a great hot dog shop in casual dialog, without “liking” it on the web or “liking” its Facebook page. Will Bing show me that when I search for a place to eat in Chicago?

If I’m thinking about buying a new album, will it show me the comment my friend made about how much it sucks? Facebook is a treasure trove of data, and while these new features may be an improvement to the experience, there is a lot more that can be done (much of which Wajam, for one, has already made significant strides in).

Challenging Google

Google has made no secret of the fact that it considers Microsoft and Bing to be its main competitor. Bing, while it still has a ways to go before it gets into Google territory, has been steadily increasing search market share since it launched. The latest comScore data had both Bing and Yahoo gaining a little ground in April (with Bing of course powering the back-end of Yahoo’s search results).

Bing has things in motion that should only increase its share significantly. These include deals with Nokia and RIM, which will put Bing as the default search engine in the pockets of a great many devices. While this is only speculation, I still expect Microsoft to eventually integrate Bing into Xbox in a major way, as the web and the living room become more integrated. Google is not shying away from this area, and Microsoft already has a significant edge with its gaming console. The recent follies of the Sony Playstation (the Xbox’s main rival) can’t hurt either.

Google has been doing social search for quite some time, but really how social is it? How many conversations does it start? How often do the results influence your decisions? There has long been one major hole in Google’s offering, and that is Facebook data. This is simply because most people online that do any kind of social networking use Facebook. If they used Google Buzz, Google would have an enormous edge, but they use Facebook. As long as that’s the case, and Google is not tapping into that, its social-based results simply can’t be as good as they would be otherwise.

The Facebook Like vs. the Google +1 Button

Google has of course unveiled its strategy of using friends to influence search results with the +1 button, which is set to be rolled out in the coming weeks. There is a great deal of skepticism around this, however, and Bing has upped the ante. The strategies are similar in that both require friends hitting a button to influence the search rankings of content.

Where Google is starting from the ground up, Bing is harvesting the data from a very well established system that we know works. Frankly, Google is going to have a hard time topping this.

For one thing, people aren’t clicking the “like” button with the intent to influence search rankings (at least not the average person, though I suspect we’ll see people trying to game this). They’re clicking it because they use Facebook and they genuinely like things. That works.

To most users, Google is still a search engine. It’s not where their friends are. Sure, maybe they use all kinds of Google services, but it’s still not their main social network of choice. We’re still waiting for Google to tie this whole social strategy together in a more cohesive way (that’s a whole other conversation) , but until that gets accomplished, the average user is just going to consider Facebook the place where their friends are going to see their “liking”. Who’s going to see their “+1ing”? Are they just going to click that button because they want other people to have a better chance of finding it for some search query that they may or may not ever enter?

Less of the Same

All of that said, it might be best that Google and Bing remain significantly different in their strategies. It is a good thing for Bing to differentiate itself more as a search engine. The less alike Bing and Google are, the more options users have. It’s even possible to use both. I know. Crazy, right?

Google’s Matt Cutts is even encouraging users to check out other search engines like Blekko and DuckDuckGo. “I love when new search engines launch. I think competition is great,” he said in a recent webmaster video. “It keeps us on our toes. It makes sure that we’re doing the right things. I highly encourage people to check out both Blekko and DuckDuckGo. See what you like, see what you don’t like.”

He has a point about Google “making sure it’s doing the right things”. We’ve certainly seen Google borrow some ideas from Bing in the past. We’ll see if Google and Facebook can ever come to an understanding. Don’t forget, Microsoft is an investor in Facebook.

From a marketing perspective, Bing needs to find ways to stand out by leveraging its business relationships with Facebook. I wonder if we’ll start seeing more about this in Bing commercials. Microsoft is certainly spending a lot more on marketing Bing than Google is on its search engine. Perhaps that will change if Bing’s market share doesn’t stop growing.

Which is the better search engine: Google or Bing? Tell us what you think.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.