Bing’s Facebook-Enhanced Results Now Appear More Frequently on a Wider Range of Searches

Earlier this week, Microsoft’s search engine Bing significantly deepened its Instant Personalization integration with Facebook. It launched several new social features for its web search, shopping, travel, and toolbar products; and it began triggering the display of social content much more frequently.

By improving result quality with both the data of a user’s friends and the Facebook user base at large, Bing is positioning itself as the search engine of choice for when people need social reassurance to make a decision.

We sat down with the Director of Bing, Stefan Weitz to ask him a few questions about the motives behind the update. We’ll follow that with an in-depth look at the product changes.

Q&A on Social as the Future of Ecommerce Search

Inside Facebook: Why is Bing pushing to get social integrations so deep into decision-based search?

Stefan Weitz, Director of Bing: Decision search is moving from exploration to active conversation because 80% of people delay making a purchase online until they can talk to a friend.

Core search stuff has been taken care of by intelligent organization. But how do people sort through all the links and make a decision? You do all the research, but at the last minute you walk away from the purchase process because you’re not convinced until you get a social recommendation.

When you want to tap into that info you have to go to a bunch of different places. Whether it’s just Facebook that solves that problem, or if it’s Quora and other sites, behavior is already moving in that direction (of seeking advice online rather than offline). But no one does a good job of pulling it all together into search.

IF: What has changed that’s made this possible but also necessary?

SW: Stuff that was previosuly in your brain is now in a format that machines can read. Friend connections are a new way of thinking about ranking search.

Meanwhile, humans are creating 5 billion gigabytes of data every two days, and machines are losing their ability to categorize it all. How can PageRank handle a Yfrog image? It probably doesn’t have a title, or caption, or anything else that could help index it. But if a friend Likes it, that’s important.

IF: Why is the social content appearing more frequently now?

SW: Honestly, it was light before. You didn’t see much of it.  Now it’s gone up a ton, you’ll see it a lot more. It triggers more because we have higher coverage [across products]. Its more than just Likes now. We think of people as having characteristics and attributes, not just actions. Now we’re considering what other meta data can we use that people will give us access to so we can continue to personalize search.

Improvements to Bing’s Existing Facebook Integration

Bing began its Facebook integration by indexing Page updates and publicly visible links posted by users in June 2010. In October of that year, it partnered with Facebook to offer Instant Personalization of Bing search results so users could could see Likes by friends of search result objects, and their network connections to Facebook users found through a name search.

However, the search result Likes were displayed very infrequently, so some hardly noticed the change. Microsoft also released the Bing Bar toolbar, which allowed users to view the Facebook news feed and their notification from any tab, but it didn’t offer an easy way to share web pages and links copied into its Facebook publisher weren’t formatted as they are on Facebook.com.

Bing has now fixed these issues and greatly expanded the functionality of its Facebook integration. As Weitz said, social content now appears in search results much more frequently. Meanwhile, the Bing Bar now has a “Universal Like Button” — a one click way to share the currently viewed webpage to the news feed with the same rich story formatting as if one had pasted the link into the Facebook.com publisher.