Despite a disappointing IPO, Facebook is still the dominant social network both in terms of its user base and the length of time that its users spend on the site. Facebook has had a long relationship with Microsoft’s Bing, but with the launch of the “New Bing” last month, Facebook can now become deeply integrated into the Bing search experience. Bing announced New Bing on May 10, 2012 and began slowly making it available to select Bing searchers. As of June 4, the New Bing is available to all U.S. searchers.
The New Bing integrates Facebook into search results, for those users who login to Bing using Facebook, and the Facebook connection is being clearly promoted on the main U.S. Bing homepage, as well as in search results. “Bing brings together the best of search and people in your social networks” proclaims the home page while the search results highlights the Connect with Facebook button as “go from searching to doing by getting ideas from friends as you search. Sign in and see how it works in four quick steps.”
The New Three Column Look
The most significant change in the New Bing is the reorganization of the search results page in three columns with traditional results, a snapshot for quick information and answers, and a social sidebar. The left-hand column has the traditional results, so often now called the “ten blue links.” While it has received less press coverage, Bing reported significantly increased relevance. Harry Shum, Microsoft corporate vice president of Search Development, notes in the Bing Search Summit that consumers prefer Bing search results over Google and showed a graph (based on an internal, unbranded study comparing Bing results to Google results) that demonstrated a progressive increase in consumer satisfaction from the 1Q 2011 when only 34% of people preferred Bing results compared to 38% for Google to results from the 1Q 2012 that now have 43% preferring Bing results compared to 28% who prefer Google results. Unlike Google’s move into social integration in search results with Search Plus Your World, Bing keeps the traditional results separate from the social network information.
The new center column, the Snapshot, is described in the press release as “a new feature that displays useful information about a specific place or topic in one location in the middle column of the search results page.” The Snapshot is similar to Google’s new Knowledge Graph but is not yet fully rolled out. It works best for popular information such as movie searches or local searches for hotels and restaurants. The center column may also includes ads (below the snapshot information if there is any) and related searches.
The right-hand column is the new social sidebar. Bing’s blog post describes its aim of “bringing friends, experts, and enthusiasts into your search experience through a dedicated social ‘sidebar.’ With sidebar, Bing brings together the best of the web, with what experts and your friends know, giving you the confidence to act. This new way to search lets people share, discover, and interact with friends like they do in real life.”
Even for non-logged-in searchers, the social sidebar may feature some “People Who Know” about a topic with links to those people’s Twitter accounts. This only shows up for a few broad searches. At the bottom, non-logged-in searchers will see links to “Trends to Talk About.”
Connecting to your Facebook account enables the display of three other areas in the sidebar:
- Ask Friends
- Friends Who Might Know
- Activity Feed
The Ask Friends box at the top lets searchers share their search with friends on Facebook along with adding a specific question or comment and selecting links from the search results. Click the Ask Friends box and every search result in the first column will display a link icon on the left. Just click the icon to add the links to the Facebook question. Facebook will also include the specific search prefixed with “Help me with my search for ...” From the Bing side, there is no option to specify which Facebook friends will see the post. That can only be changed within Facebook. As Danny Sullivan writes in his extensive coverage of the changes with screenshots, “It’s a good reminder that you can exercise specific control over the app. In Facebook, if you go to Account Settings, then to Apps, Bing will be listed. From there, you can control who sees what the app posts.”
The Friends Who Might Know section appears after the Ask Friends box in the sidebar for some searches when it matches information from Facebook friends’ profiles. Sandy Wong, principal development lead for Bing says that “user models in the network look at public information in your profile such as where your friends live or have lived, what they’ve liked on Facebook, and photos--and turn up a list of people who likely have information relevant to your query.” Friends’ names and head shots will display along with brief information about their connection to the search with phrases like “has pasted photos of,” “has lived in,” and “likes.” Mouse over one of these Friends to see more information about the connection. The activity feed shows recent questions you have posted and ones from your friends.
What’s Gone or Moved
With these significant changes to the results pages and the move to the three-column layout, other search features are now gone or moved. The Advanced Search link is one of the casualties. While you can still get to a functioning advanced search page you need to know the direct URL. Bing has also removed the old “More Info” mouse over link on the right of a result that displayed a text extract, popular links, and the cached page link. The cached page is still available, but it is now available by clicking on the small green triangle to the right of the URL. The date search limits that would sometimes display are completely gone as are the tabs for other databases that used to display below the search box. Access to some of the other databases will still show up above the search box, but not all the Bing databases get displayed there. Search history is still available, but to get to the link either click on the “more” link above the search box or on the "Sign in" or signed in icon to see the search history.
These changes are all still in the early stages at Bing, and Microsoft is watching closely at how well this works in the U.S. market before expanding to other areas. Opinions on the tech blogs and in comments on Bing’s own posts ranging from positive to dismissive and are often more tied to opinions about Microsoft or Facebook. Qi Lu, Microsoft president of Online Services Divisions, says that “We at Bing aspire to ... enable users to accomplish their goals much easier.”
With this new redesign, Facebook can become one tool to help Bing searchers find a new way to answers. It seems to have the potential for librarians and information professionals to connect with searches that their Facebook friends are willing to share with them, but it will take significant adoption of the new Bing social sidebar and some time to change searcher behavior. At least Bing is exploring some new ways to attempt to further improve search.