Bing beefs up Facebook content in search results

Microsoft says its search engine will incorporate five-times as much Facebook content in results

Users of Microsoft's Bing search engine can now see a wider range of Facebook content from their friends appear alongside search results, part of an effort by Microsoft to make the site more social.

When a person runs a query in Bing, the results include general content from the web as well as related information from social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Google+.

For instance, if a user is logged into Bing through Facebook when performing the search, Bing's Social Sidebar is populated with related information from their Facebook friends. Bing launched the sidebar feature last summer.

Previously, the results included only the Facebook friends' "Likes," photos and profile information, but Microsoft has now expanded that to include status updates, shared links and comments.

The extended data amounts to a five-fold increase in Facebook friends' content that is searchable in the sidebar, Microsoft said in a blog post Wednesday.

The idea is to give people more useful and personalized results. "This is a much richer set of data that not only helps show what your friends may know, but what knowledge they possess that can aid in your search," a Microsoft spokesperson said. The Social Sidebar is currently available only to users in the U.S.

A person planning a trip to New York, for instance, can find not just information about the city, but also information from Facebook friends who have lived or visited there, Microsoft said.

The information in the sidebar from other social networks works slightly differently -- it's not linked to the person's friends, but to other sources deemed to be experts on the topic. That functionality is not affected by today's changes.

The expanded Facebook content comes at an interesting time. On Tuesday, Facebook announced the beta launch of Graph Search, a social search tool based on connections between users. When there are gaps in Graph Search results, Bing results will help to fill the holes, Facebook said during a press conference.

The new Bing features announced today are not connected to the Graph Search announcement, according to Microsoft. But the company will "continue to power the web search functionality on Facebook," Microsoft said.

Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research, wondered if the services might work more closely together in future. "It will be interesting to see how the roll out of Facebook Graph Search impacts social search on Bing and whether theres some 'synergy' and increased usage," he said in a blog post.

Others, such as Karsten Weide, vice president of media and entertainment at IDC, say Bing's expanded Social Sidebar is a step forward.

"It's not going to turn things upside down, but it could help Microsoft grow its search traffic more rapidly," and it could become a stronger competitor to Google, he said.

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