This week, Microsoft announced an interesting tie-in between its Bing search engine and the popular Facebook social networking service. That is, Bing will now tailor its search results so that it accounts for the preferences of your Facebook friends. Microsoft calls this change a "social signal," but a simpler way to think of it, perhaps, is that Bing will now add a new personalized layer to its search results—one that's based on your actual relationships.
"We are rolling out some new features that allow you to take your friends with you into your Bing experience, both at bing.com as well as within the search experience at Facebook," Microsoft Senior Vice President Satya Nadel wrote in a blog post announcing the functionality. "We will show you what your friends have liked, using Facebook's public 'like' platform, as you navigate through search results in Bing."
According to Microsoft, this change will make search results more social and personalized. With other search engines, search results are based on how information is connected. With Bing and Facebook, a new layer is added around the connections between people. This, Microsoft claims, will help people make better decisions and accomplish complex tasks.
Some of the examples Microsoft provides are illustrative of its goal. Suppose you're searching for information about the movie Inception because you want to see the film but are curious whether it's any good. In the real world, you'd ask questions like, "Should I see the movie Inception?" and "Would I like it?" But on the web, it's hard to ask that kind of question. So, you have to formulate the search query in a way that the search engine will understand, then mine the results for the answer to the real question you're asking. But even reviews of the movie might not accurately portray whether you'll like the film.
With Bing's Facebook-based results, many queries will include a section called "Liked by your Facebook friends" that will contain web links explicitly "liked" by people you've friended on Facebook. You can also search for Facebook friends on Bing, and customize how your own Facebook data is surfaced on Bing (or not). More Bing/Facebook functionality is on the way, too, both companies hinted.
Obviously, for this functionality to work, you'd need to have a Facebook account—and, it should be noted, some "friends." Microsoft says it will be expanding its "social signal" in different ways, going forward, and it's possible that similar connections with other social networks are on the way. It remains to be seen whether this kind of integration will actually improve search results, but it's an interesting concept that enables a sort of "groupthink" (or "mind meld") functionality within Bing search.