It's a big week in social media, and Microsoft's Bing search engine is getting in on the act. Following the unveiling of Facebook's new real-time Graph Search component, Microsoft rolled out a new update to Bing's social sidebar that integrates more Facebook data into search results.
Bing director Bill Hankes describes the update as a "significant improvement and enhancement to the social sidebar." Users that link their Facebook accounts will notice a significant increase in content derived from their friends' timelines, a fivefold increase in fact.
According to Hankes, his company didn't just dial up the number of results that it delivers to visitors. Bing's updated social sidebar "delivers not only a lot more information but also qualitative information," he added.
Previously, the Bing sidebar derived its results from profile information, photos and "likes." "Those were the earliest signals that we began to incorporate from Facebook," Hankes told eWEEK. Starting with this update, Bing also includes status updates, shared links and comments.
The change bolsters Bing's positioning as a search engine that people use to seek out recommendations and get things done, not just perform research. Integrating more Facebook signals —and more social signals, in general—leads to a richer search experience that delivers more relevant results, said Hankes.
How does Facebook Graph Search fit in?
Graph Search is a new search technology that delivers as-you-type results that can encompass photos, videos, links, documents and shared items—practically everything that appears in a users' timelines stretching back to the day that they first joined. As the social media giant envisions it, it is a critical new pillar that will support its business.
"We look at this as the third main pillar of our business up to this point: We have Newsfeed, for connecting with the people around you; we have Timeline, which tells us the history of the people around you. Now we have Graph Search, which will tie everything together and answer questions directly in real time," said Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg during the Graph Search introduction earlier this week.
While the announcement's timing and Microsoft's own partnership with Facebook—Bing supplies Facebook's Web search functionality—implies some form of collaboration, Graph Search was "homegrown by Facebook," said Hankes. Indeed, Zuckerberg hinted as much at the press conference at Facebook's headquarters when he said, "Graph Search is something we've been working on for a long while."
Bing's social sidebar and Facebook Graph Search are distinct and separate technologies, said Hankes. The latter represents a way to "search the structured data that users have contributed over the years," he added.
Expect many more Bing social sidebar updates. Microsoft is investing heavily in social search. "We consider social to be one of the most important aspects of search today," said Hankes. The reason is fairly straightforward: "People possess the keys to a lot of the information that people are searching for on the Web," he said.