Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is rolling out an expansion to features on its Bing search engine that display data from Facebook Inc., such as restaurants, brands and links friends have recommended, aiming to make results more social.
The company is broadening the scope of a tool that lets users who are searching for a restaurant, movie or news story see if their friends have “liked” it on Facebook, the world’s most popular social network. Searches for places will list friends who live nearby, while looking for www.amazon.com shows Amazon items “liked” by friends, as well as popular items among the Facebook community, said Sean Suchter, general manager of Microsoft’s Search Technology Center in Silicon Valley.
Since overhauling its search engine and releasing Bing in June 2009, Microsoft has built the product into a credible alternative to Google. Including traffic from a search agreement with Yahoo! Inc., Bing now underpins about 30 percent of searches in the U.S., according to ComScore Inc. With Google still dominating, Microsoft is pushing forward with improvements like social search as a way to gain more share.
“It’s not going to be something that overnight changes people to Bing,” said Danny Sullivan, who runs the search- analysis website Search Engine Land. He said Microsoft has already rolled out some social features since signing an agreement with Facebook in October. “The social evolution is important and it is growing. It’s going to be an interesting thing, but it’s not going to blow the doors off.”
Microsoft fell 46 cents to $24.57 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares have declined 12 percent this year.
Compare With Friends
Bing’s travel site will add features to let customers compare trips with Facebook friends and get their suggestions. If a user likes a city on Bing Travel, Bing will send flight deals to the user’s Facebook feed. The Bing search tool bar will now include a “like” button to let users recommend any site they visit.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft already lets users “friend” someone on Facebook from within search results and shows searchers things their friends have liked. The company this week is boosting how much Facebook data Bing scans, meaning users will see more of these kinds of social results. The features won’t show users information from friends who have set up their Facebook accounts to be private, Suchter said.
Information on friends’ recommendations can make searches more useful and help get customers comfortable with researching and purchasing online, said Chad Stoller, executive vice president of digital strategy at advertising agency BBDO North America.
“There’s a reason teenage girls shop in packs in the mall,” he said. “Anything that can give people greater confidence shopping online is a good thing, and social search can give people that level of confidence.”
Having the Facebook data gives Microsoft an advantage over Google, Stoller said. If search engines don’t combine social data, they could lose one to three searches a day per customer, because users who are spending more time on social networks like Facebook will get links and references there and have less need for search engines, he said.
“This is going to be the next big thing,” said Suchter, who previously ran Yahoo’s search technology team before joining Microsoft in December 2008. “This is one of those big sea changes. We can make it where really your friends are always with you.”
Suchter declined to say whether the deal with Facebook is exclusive. He said he expects Google to try to match the Microsoft offerings.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, uses Twitter data to provide searchers information on what their friends have shared. That feature is only available to people who use Google’s Social Circles product, while Microsoft is showing these search results more broadly, Search Engine Land’s Sullivan said.
Suchter, who has worked in the Internet search area since 1998, oversees a team of about 130 search experts housed at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus. The team has largely been drawn from rivals over the past two years -- when Suchter started at Microsoft, he was the only one, he said.
To build the product, Suchter said his team worked long hours with Facebook engineers. Suchter said he’s done late night software-coding sessions at their offices, and Facebook co- founder Mark Zuckerberg did the same at Microsoft.
Suchter also has to make Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates happy. Search is one of a handful of areas Gates continues to work on since leaving his day-to-day role, and Suchter had his first review of the social features with Gates several weeks ago.
“This is an agenda for us,” Suchter said. “It’s much bigger than what we are doing here.”
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