Bing uses Facebook social data to strike at Google

Microsoft deepens its social search results as it teams with Facebook against common rival

In another shot at their common rival Google, Microsoft and Facebook are teaming up again to make Bing's search engine more social.

On Monday, Microsoft announced that it's working more Facebook information into Bing's search results, giving users a deeper look into their "friends" likes and dislikes.

This isn't the first time that Microsoft and Facebook have worked together to make search more social. Rather, it's an extension of those original efforts.

Before, Bing let users know if their Facebook friends had "liked" any of the search results they were seeing. Now Microsoft is giving a greater preference to "liked" search results in Bing's results ranking.

The search engine also is calculating how many people in general "like" certain search results, so it won't all be based on the user's friends. That's designed to give people a broader opinion base to help them make their decision.

Now Bing also will let users share their search results with their Facebook friends so they can enable their friends to vote on their favorites.

Analysts said these are good features for users who want to know what their friends, and even strangers, think about what car they should buy or where they should go on vacation.

However,it is also another way that Microsoft and Facebook can team up ( ) to go after Google, with its dominant search engine.

"Well it makes sense for Microsoft and Facebook to try to surround Google," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Right now, they're not competing intensely with each other, but they're both competing fiercely with Google. Of course, they would do this."

And the competition between Google and Microsoft and now increasingly Google and Facebook is intensifying.

Last week, Facebook was caught hiring a prominent PR firm to try to get news media sites to publish negative stories about Google's privacy practices.

Last fall, the battle lines were made clear. That's when Microsoft tightened its ties with Facebook, and the two companies joined forces to bring social features to search. It was a move that represented a big threat to Google's search standing.

Alone, neither Microsoft nor Facebook was expected to be able to take on Google with its massive coffers and dominant market position. But together, the two companies have a better chance of at least slowly chipping away at Google's search dominance.

"It makes sense. Enemy of my enemy... and all that," said Gottheil. "But I'm skeptical about this joint venture being the giant killer. I think it's more about chipping away at Google. I'm sure there are people at both companies thinking about ways they can work together to drain customers away from Google."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said this is a good step for two companies that want to make inroads against Google.

The more reasons they can give users, who are increasingly tied to their social communities, to use Bing instead of Google, the more chances Microsoft has of eventually prying users away from a search engine that they've grown accustomed to using.

As for Facebook, the weaker Google is, the better chance the social network has of grabbing some of its ad dollars. It would also help Facebook grapple with Google if the search company ever launches its own social network, which CEO Larry Page has made a companywide goal.

"Heavy Facebook users might see this new search feature as something that will help them in their desire to either be completely like their friends or completely different - so it serves dual purposes there," said Olds. "While it's not the sort of feature that will prompt a sea change from Google to Bing search, it's the type of feature that, if successful, will chip away at Google's lead."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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