Bing Redesign Adds Facebook, Twitter Integration
Microsoft unveiled a major overhaul to its Bing search engine on Thursday, giving users a more personalized search experience by incorporating data from social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The move represents Microsoft’s most dramatic shift in web search since the introduction of Bing.
“Today we are taking a big step forward as we begin rolling out what is the most significant update to Bing since we launched three years ago,” the company said.
“Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing a brand new way to search designed to help you take action and interact with friends and experts without compromising the core search experience.”
The new version of Bing, which will be available in the U.S. in early June, adds a social sidebar that allows friends on social networks to guide searches. It also includes an instant snapshot column featuring additional information and links to useful content such as maps, reviews and reservation tools.
Users of Bing will also notice a refreshed user interface, presented in a three-column design that focuses on helping users move from simply finding information to making quick, informed decisions, Microsoft said.
“Now it’s possible to do more than find pages with search,” the company wrote in a posting on its Bing community blog.
“You are able to share nearly everything you do, including where you are and who you are, in real-time.”
The new user interface presents Bing’s search results in three columns, or panes. The left column will feature the familiar blue links drawn from Bing’s algorithm for finding the most relevant search results. The middle section, dubbed “Snapshot,” is reserved for completing tasks, such as getting directions, making reservations or purchasing concert tickets.
Snapshot will include a separate space featuring movie show times, and an option to buy, for example, tickets in response to a search for “Hunger Games.” Searches for hotels will display pictures of rooms and information on amenities, as well as the ability to make reservations.
The “Sidebar” column on the far right side will be the cornerstone of the new Bing, and the place where users logged into Facebook will see recommendations gathered from their Facebook network. From there, users can post on friends’ Facebook pages without leaving the search results page.
Bing’s search results can even be shared on friends’ Facebook pages with a question about the topic. For instance, a search for “Paris hotels” might list your Facebook friends who have been to France. Users could then use the Sidebar box to post a note on a friend’s page seeking recommendations.
The Sidebar column also will highlight applicable tweets, even those from people a user might not follow. The feature will also suggest experts on topics related to searches, and list their Twitter handles and any blogs or other websites where they share their opinions.
Despite all the new features, Microsoft said the updated Bing would retain its focus on providing relevant, comprehensive and trustworthy search results.
“The bedrock of modern search remains core algorithmic relevance. With the latest updates, we are delivering the results you expect.”
“Instead of cluttering your results with social updates, we’re honoring the purity of the core web results making it easier to focus on the links you need to get things done.”
The major overhaul of Bing signifies a new direction for Microsoft as it seeks to challenge Google in the lucrative Internet search business. Microsoft acquired a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook for $240 million in 2007 — an investment now worth about $1 billion.
The company has been working closely with the social network over the past two years to harness the vast amounts of personal data available on the site, but has fallen short in luring users away from Google.
In fact, virtually all of Bing’s gains have come at the expense of Yahoo, which began relying on Microsoft’s search technology in 2010 as part of a multi-year partnership between the two companies.
Most of the personal data that Bing is pulling from Facebook and Twitter is unavailable to Google because its search engine doesn’t have the same access to those information-sharing hubs as Microsoft does.
“This is a big, bold bet that we think is going to surprise a lot of people,” said Lisa Gurry, Bing’s senior director.
“It’s a fundamentally different way of looking at search.”
It’s also an acknowledgement by Microsoft that previous attempts to incorporate Facebook data into Bing’s search results haven’t panned out.
During the past year, Bing has been tailoring search results based on the number of times a user’s Facebook network had “liked” a particular search request.
But Gurry said Bing discovered that most Web surfers don’t want the results influenced by their Facebook friends to be combined with answers generated by a search algorithm.
That led to Microsoft’s decision to create the ‘Sidebar’, which offers a separate area of the results page dedicated to suggestions from social network friends.
Microsoft’s relationship with Facebook means Bing can access the vast amounts of data being posted by Facebook’s more than 900 million users. Twitter has also been selling Microsoft expanded access to its tweets since 2009.
Google lost its access to Twitter data last summer when the micro-blogging service decided not to renew a licensing agreement. The partnership fell apart around the same time that Google launched its ‘Plus’ social network to compete with Facebook and Twitter.
Google began this year favoring results drawn from ‘Plus’, while excluding publicly available information from Facebook and Twitter — a move that has drawn scrutiny about its neutrality.
The preferential treatment of its own social network data also added fuel to the fire of an intensifying Federal Trade Commission probe into allegations that Google has been stifling competition by highlighting its own services, while ignoring links to rival websites.
Microsoft said it will include relevant recommendations from a wide range of social networking services, including Google Plus.
“We are not trying to build an empire by favoring some services over others,” Gurry said.
Google held a 66 percent share of the U.S. search market in March, a one percentage point increase from June 2009, when Bing was launched, according to data from comScore reported by The Associated Press (AP).
Meanwhile, Bing’s market share stands at just 15 percent.
Microsoft said it plans to launch a marketing campaign on television and the Internet to promote the updated Bing. In the mean time, consumers can sign up at www.bing.com/new to be notified of availability for their PC, and at m.bing.com to receive notification of availability for smartphones.
Additional information about the upgrade can be found at the Microsoft Newscenter.