Today, Microsoft releases a new version of its Bing Bar downloadable browser tool bar that includes several Facebook capabilities. Bing Bar users can see when they have new notifications, messages, and friend requests, and view an activity feed and photos from friends without visiting Facebook.com.
Though the Facebook features and other functions including maps, mail, translation, and rewards are somewhat useful, the Bing Bar is only available to users of Internet Explorer 7 or later running Windows 7, Vista, or XP, limiting its potential for adoption.
Microsoft has been a long time partner of Facebook, powering its internal search, selling some ad inventory, and most recently integrating Instant Personalization into Bing Search. The Bing Bar’s Facebook integration was developed independently, though, using Facebook’s APIs.
The Bing team claims this is the fastest, most lightweight toolbar available. Its main purpose is to expose users to various functionalities of Bing. The Bing Bar can provide one click directions to a searched business, display local weather, and translate web pages. Since the toolbar collects clickstream data, installs will help Microsoft refine its products and search result ranking algorithm.
However, for the Bing Bar to gain traction, Microsoft will have to battle a stigma against toolbars. Spammy, malware-ridden toolbars have been prevalent on the internet for years, so most users associate them with slowed down browsing and security concerns. To incentivize use, the Bing Bar offers rewards points for following suggested searches of current events. Users can redeem these points for prizes.
Once Windows Intenet Explorer users have downloaded and installed the Bing Bar and given it Facebook authorization, they’ll see an orange star on the toolbar’s Facebook icon whenever they have pending notifications, messages, or friend requests.
When the icon is clicked, users can select between a number of tabs, including Photos, which shows thumbnails of photos uploaded by friends, and News Feed, which appears to predominantly display simple activity stories, not full stories. Users can also Like and comment on updates from friends.
The Bing Bar allows users to update their status, but doesn’t format links pasted into its composer. Instead it just publishes the URL. Since users will be browsing around the internet and discovering interesting websites, the inability to share them with friends in a compelling way is a significant deficiency. Users are better off going to Facebook.com where their pasted links are formatted into rich stories with thumbnail images and captions instead of using the Bing Bar.
With an existing negative perception of toolbars, limited accessibility, and the fact that some of its Facebook features work significantly worse than on Facebook’s website, Microsoft will have a difficult time finding a large audience for the Bing Bar, even if it has some useful features.