Less than a month after Google accused Microsoft's Bing search engine of copying search results, Bing revamped its toolbar with Facebook functionality that duplicates a lot what RockMelt does in its Web browser.
Facebook contacts appear along the left edge of the browser window after users log into RockMelt via their Facebook e-mail and password. The right side of RockMelt includes buttons for accessing the Facebook News Feed, Facebook Profile, Twitter tweet stream and timeline.
Launched Feb. 17, Bing Bar 7 gives users of Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 browser or later easy access to their Facebook news feed to see posts from friends and update their status.
Users may also comment on or Like a friend's post right from the Bing Bar. Facebook friend requests, messages and notifications are also surfaced in the Bing Bar, which is very much consistent with what users get from RockMelt, which signals message notifications and other Facebook updates.
When eWEEK pointed out the similarities between RockMelt and Bing Bar 7's Facebook functionality, RockMelt co-founder and CEO Eric Vishria agreed with the comparison. While he didn't criticize Microsoft for hewing to the world's most popular social network, he did lapse into a gentle boast.
"You're right; the Bing Bar really does duplicate so much of what Rockmelt does," Vishria told Eweek. "And when we set out to create the browser for the next decade, we fully expected others to copy of us, and we expect to see a lot more of this as others tune into what modern Web users want."
Vishria added that RockMelt, Bing and the Web at large is evolving to meet the way people are interacting with it today, and social interactions are an integral part of that evolution. Facebook happens to sit at the center of that change.
Bing agreed in a statement to eWEEK, stressing that it did not copy RockMelt in trying to aggregate popular things people do online, from Facebook to e-mail and games:
"Toolbars have always been about bringing important Web content to customers in an easily accessible way, alongside search. The Bing Bar is no different. As we set out to build it, we looked at what people are doing online each day and included those items that would make the toolbar most useful for customers. We did not copy an existing service."
To that end, the new Bing Bar continues the company's integration with Facebook by providing users with access to their Facebook content without whisking them away from Bing to the social network. Bing in fact just augmented its Facebook Liked results to annotate any Web URLs, not just those shared by friends.
It was a tacit acknowledgement that people don't want social search done by the search engines who lack organic social networks, which is the way Google has approached the task to date. Rather, users want to access what they and their friends are familiar with. That would be Facebook, which boasts more than 600 million users.
That brings up an interesting question about Google. While RockMelt and Bing huddle close to Facebook, does Google, which hired dozens of social software experts in 2010, have the chops to challenge Facebook without tapping into Facebook?
It's unclear, but Google +1, the company's social software layer cake, appears to be the search engine's bid to do just that, making for an exciting social showdown in 2011.