Microsoft deepens Bing's use of Facebook data

Microsoft has incorporated more Facebook data into its Bing search results, increasing the competition around social search with Google, whose level of access to Facebook data is not as deep.

Leveraging its years-long advertising, investment and technology partnership with Facebook, Microsoft on Monday is rolling out a wider range of matches between Bing's Social search engine queries and Web content Facebook users have "liked."

The capabilities build on Bing's initial use of Facebook data, which was launched late last year and complemented regular search results with links that users' friends had tagged as favorites using Facebook's "Like" button.

"The dynamics of search continue to change, especially due to social media," said Lisa Gurry, a Bing director, in an interview.

As before, Bing users have to be logged into their Facebook accounts to take advantage of the search engine's integration with the social networking site.

The new capabilities fall into three major categories that Microsoft has labeled "trusted friends," "collective IQ" and "conversational search," according to Microsoft.

While Bing is already notifying users about search results their friends have "liked," Microsoft is now increasing the weight assigned to these "liked" results when ranking search results, and also expanding the variety of content it surfaces. "We all want that 'gut check' from friends when making decisions," Gurry said.

For "collective IQ," Bing will take into consideration the overall "like" popularity of sites and links, thus not limiting it to a user's circle of friends. The idea is to make Facebook "like" data useful in cases where a user's own friends don't offer a strong enough signal to sharpen query results. "There's power in numbers, in the voice of many, if your friends aren't experts on a particular topic," Gurry said.

Bing is also displaying recent posts made on Facebook Pages that companies use to market and promote their products, such as special deals and offers. Likewise, Bing will push notifications of travel deals to users' Facebook profile Walls, based on cities and other relevant information that they have "liked."

In the "conversational search" category, Bing is introducing features to let users share results with their Facebook friends and request their input, such as when they are using Bing's Shopping search engine and want advice on what to buy. When people are using the Bing Travel search engine, they will be able to share a travel wish list and see which friends live in those desired destinations.

While Google remains the dominant search engine, it recognizes that social search is increasingly important and has been beefing up its capabilities in this area as a well. However, Google and Facebook have a tense relationship, and Microsoft for now has access to Facebook data in a way and with a depth that Google doesn't. While Facebook is far from the only social media site, it is the world's largest social networking site, and the deeper the access to its data, the better for search engine providers.

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