Microsoft, Facebook Introduce New Social Search Features

Microsoft and Facebook are deepening their partnership with two new features that leverage Facebook connections for supposedly more-accurate Web search results.

Microsoft and Facebook are partnering on a set of new social-search features accessible via Bing. The features will also activate for Web results on Facebook, which are powered by Bing.

One new feature, Liked Results, displays the Websites and links "liked" by a Facebook user's friends. If you search in Bing for "Halo: Reach," for example, your friends' Facebook profile images will appear next to certain results. "So, you can lean on friends to figure out the best Websites for your search," reads an Oct. 13 note on The Facebook Blog.

The other new feature, Facebook Profile Search, factors into searches for specific people. In response to a search request for a particular name-e.g., "John Smith"-Bing will now leverage a user's Facebook connections to deliver more relevant results. "Those with whom you have mutual friends will now show up first," reads The Facebook Blog note. "Bing is also making more prominent the ability to add these people as friends on Facebook directly from Bing."

The tighter partnership between Facebook and Bing is unsurprising, given Microsoft's $240 million investment for a 1.6 percent stake in the social network. During an Oct. 13 presentation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared onstage with Microsoft executives to talk through the background and details of the deeper search integration.

"We're hard-wired so that information about people is the most interesting information we track in the world," Zuckerberg told the audience.

Microsoft likely hopes that the new layer of Facebook data will help Bing in its continuing battle against Google, which recently added real-time search results in a bid to streamline its service. Analytics firms give Bing around 27-30 percent of the U.S. search-engine market, once Bing's powering of Yahoo's backend search is taken into account, while Google occupies between 65-71 percent.

"We think it's time for a real, robust, persistent social signal," Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft's Online Services Division, wrote in an Oct. 13 posting on the Bing Community blog. "Facebook has led a transformation of the Internet already. It has reached and passed 500 million members, and the amount of content created inside Facebook each day is staggering."

The new social-search features are scheduled to roll out in the United States over the next few weeks.

"What's most exciting to us at Bing is the evolution of this new signal, based on something more than just pattern recognition or keyword matching," Nadella wrote in that blog posting. "This new signal will allow us to do a better and more comprehensive job predicting what resources and content are most relevant to you because, in addition to all the other signals we use, other people you trust have found them interesting."