Facebook Instant Personalization Comes to Bing Web and People Search

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By Josh Constine Comment

Today, Facebook and Microsoft are partnering to bring Facebook instant personalization to the Bing search engine. Bing powers Facebook’s internal search, and now Facebook is helping to personalize Bing’s web search.

With the new integration of Facebook data, Facebook users searching for people on Bing will now be able to see friends or friends of friends who match their query in search results. In addition, Bing’s web search results will now also display friends’ Likes.

Previously, Facebook helped Bing Social to index public updates from Pages and personal profiles.

How Bing Instant Personalization Works

Those logged into Facebook and who have instant personalization enabled will see an instant personalization notification bar upon visiting Bing. This alerts users that their search results will be personalized, and gives them options to learn more or forego instant personalization. Users will see the notification the first five times they visit Bing. Users can remove instant personalization all together, or deny Bing access to their data through Facebook’s privacy controls.

If users search for a name, and they are connected directly or through a friend to someone with that name, they’ll see that person’s name, profile picture, their network, and whether they are a friend or who their mutual friends are in a special “People on Facebook” module. Users will also see buttons allowing them to send the person a Facebook message, or add them as a friend if they haven’t already.

Trying to find people online can be difficult, especially if that person has a common name. Users end up trying to use a number of complicated search terms to find the right “Bob Smith”. However, users are often connected to the people they’re searching for via their existing social graph. Bing will now surface these connections, allowing users to identify the person they’re looking for by their photo and connections. This functionality is similar to what is available in Facebook’s internal search bar, but the social results are shown alongside traditional search results.

When users search for web pages, results will be accompanied by the names and profile pictures of friends who’ve Liked the object listed in that result. These social recommendations help users find links which are especially relevant to them. For instance, users will see news articles Liked by their friends which include the search query.

Microsoft Explains Motives, Ongoing Improvements, and Future Implementations

Bing’s Ce Liu explained that today’s partnership is “about understanding user intent” to help users “make more informed decisions faster.” Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi continues, explaining that until now “Search has been one size fits all. Our research shows that 4% of all searches are for people, but only 20% of those searching for people are satisfied with the results.”

We asked whether social search results will always appear when they match a query. For instance, would searching for “Brian Wilson Music Beach Boys” always first show you friends or friends of friends who happen to have the name Brian Wilson? Liu said “It depends on how the algorithm understand your intent, but a data-driven, ongoing learning process” will improve the experience. Microsoft will be closely watching what users click so Bing can determine if “it makes sense to bring up social context.”

Microsoft declined to share any information about money changing hands around the deal. Looking to the future, Mehdi explains that Microsoft is seeking to sort social recommendations by who is an expert on the subject a user is searching for. “If I’m looking for a restaurant, we can figure out if someone is an expert by if they’ve checked in to that restaurant, or added photos of it.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s Thoughts on Instant Personalization

Mark Zuckerberg said that when he started Facebook in college he was interested “not in just helping people share information and organize information, but information around people. What we’re focused on now is working with companies who are scrappy, who are underdogs who are doing things other companies aren’t. Over the next 5 years, we expect almost every industry will be disrupted by someone building a product which is socially integrated.”

Zuckerberg says Facebook chose Microsoft because they were tackling problems no one else in search was looking at. He’s very optimistic that “social integration will do for search what social integration has done for games and photos and events.”

Regarding expansion of instant personalization to other search engines, Zuckerberg said “We’re trying to build a platform. It’s not about working with a single company. Over the long term we’d love to work with everyone, but the reason Microsoft is such a good partner is fundamentally tied to their innovation, market position and what they’re trying to accomplish.” This likely refers to the fact that since Bing is looking to gain market share, they’re willing to try new approaches. “How much had the search interface changed in the last eight years before they came along?”

Zuckerberg also fielded questions about what user data is sent to Bing from Facebook through instant personalization. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about this. When you go to another site with instant personalization enabled, that site gets to see who you are, and no other information about you. The site can then query Facebook for any public information about you. People have this notion that you go to a site and Facebook sends all your information to that site. That’s not true.” The current iteration won’t include asking for permission to access a user’s private data. “Search is so much about a lightweight experience and speed. At first [Bing instant personalization is] not focused on asking users for any extra information, because there’s lots of public information we can use to improve queries.”

Along with mentioning that Facebook is working on something to do with maps, Zuckerberg hinted at eventually opening the instant personalization program to all developers. “Anyone can go to your profile and view your public information. Why shouldn’t applications be able to do that to give you an awesome experience? We view this as the future of how all applications are going to work.”

Those interested in watching the presentation from home can view a recorded stream.