Guest Post: Search without Social is Incomplete

This is a guest post by Bill Hankes, a director at Bing, Microsoft’s search engine.

The amount of data Facebook ingests every day is roughly equivalent to the total amount of Internet traffic at the height of the Internet bubble. Think about that. The amount of data back in 1998 was so immense that search technology couldn’t keep up, and a company called Google was founded to help people access this burgeoning corpus of information.

Interestingly, we face the same dilemma today with Facebook that users of the World Wide Web faced years ago. We know there’s a wealth of useful knowledge housed in social networks that we’d like to intelligently access, but the tools today are still relatively young.

The data created every day on social networks is just as important as any other content being published on the web. Maybe even more so because it’s from a source you may know or trust. Suppose your friend posted a photo using her new Olympus underwater camera on a recent scuba trip, or your foodie friend checked in on Facebook or Foursquare at the new local gastro-pub? How might that information influence your decisions or help you get something done? What are the implications for brands given the availability of social data in search?

How many times have you seen a friend post something like, “Atlanta peeps: know a good plumber?” Or “Need a restaurant reco in Seattle?” Facebook is great for getting advice from friends and family about any number of topics ranging from trip planning to shopping and more. The problem is that the information quickly gets buried in the News Feed and finding it again, or using it to help others, is no easy task.

At Bing, we think the information is invaluable and can help you take action. In fact, we think for search engines to ignore the wealth of information readily available on the social graph is tantamount to malpractice. Anything else is simply incomplete.

That’s not to suggest that the problem is an easy one to solve. On the contrary, we have been working to find the right way to integrate social into search for a few years, which was industry leading work that other search providers were not attempting. We tried a few things and learned a lot as we blazed a new trail, which we used to launch the Bing social sidebar less than a year ago. At first we provided close integration with Facebook to surface basic information your friends may have shared. Then we added data from Twitter, Foursquare, Quora, Klout, and also influential bloggers into the sidebar, which sits on the right-hand side of the search results page.

Now you can see information relevant to your Bing searches directly from your Facebook friends and other social connections: things like photos from places they’ve visited, questions and advice posted in status updates and comments, and check-ins. All of this information can help you make faster, more informed decisions – isn’t this why you turned to search to begin with?

I recently shopped for a digital camera, but I haven’t used an SLR since high school. Where did I turn for help? Search, of course. I see the usual shopping information in the search results, but I also see that my friend Alam has posted a link to a new Canon camera that he’s purchased. This is naturally helpful to me, but it is equally important to brands. Marketers for these brands should think about how they will now show up in Bing’s sidebar, and ensure that product and service information is socially sharable, just like Canon does in this example.