Guilty By Association: Bing, Facebook Graph Search and Your Data

In a surprise press conference Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, the man behind the most popular social network in the world, announced the launch of the beta version of “Graph Search” a new search engine.  One of Facebook’s most important partners in developing this tool was none other than Microsoft Bing.

While Google may be worried about Facebook’s latest entry into the search market, Microsoft will ride high, gaining more social knowledge and possibly ad revenue for years to come.

The natural-language search engine is all about helping Facebook users search for things within the network, contextualizing content shared by friends.  For example, you can find out which movies your friends have been talking about or which restaurants your friends go to most often, based on a certain topic or location. At the current beta stage, the search engine is limited to four “buckets” at the moment – people, places, interests and photos.

Where does Bing fit in?

Now the real question – if users can run search against the millions of photos and connections and get the results directly on Facebook, what is the role of Microsoft’s Bing search engine here?

Facebook has just jumped into the search business and its new Graph Search isn’t perfect. The social network has also missed out on the mobile capabilities of search, though this will likely be an important opportunity as Graph Search matures. In the event that Facebook can’t handle the search initially, Facebook is turning to Bing for help.

If your Graph Search doesn’t show any results, Facebook will provide Bing results for the web at large or will defer to Bing in certain situations: “restaurants in New York,” for instance.

“As part of this [Graph Search] product, our two engineering teams worked together to advance a unified search experience. That means that when people want to search beyond Facebook, they see web search results from Bing with social context and additional information such as Facebook pages. To the Facebook user, they will not only see useful results, but we think have serendipitous experiences,” Bing writes in a blog post.

“Imagine searching for Jay-Z concerts on Facebook, and not only finding Facebook content, but also web results from Bing including concert tickets, news about the tour and other web results — annotated with Facebook Likes and Shares. We think this is a powerful combination.”

Bing is already the default search engine on Facebook, but the addition of Graph Search could be a huge bonus. The Bing logo started appearing in Facebook search results in June 2010. Now when users do a web search on Facebook, they will be greeted with Bing results on the left column with information such as the number of Facebook “likes” on a particular result. Considering there are over 1.2 billion users using Facebook, this is a big win for both Facebook and Microsoft in terms of competing with rival Google. The more people start using Graph Search, the better it is for Bing, it could lead to more Bing searches and return traffic.

What will Bing gain?

Microsoft is trying to catch up to Google in general Web search. In May 2012, Microsoft added a social “sidebar” to Bing results that shows relevant Facebook content for users who sign in with their Facebook accounts. Later, Microsoft added a way to search Facebook Photos directly through Bing.

The search engine is about getting to the central context of the keyword. And this is where Microsoft’s Bing will gain both in terms of users and associated advertising revenue.

When using Graph Search, you might want external data pulled into the results. That data will be supplied from Bing. Even a tiny percentage of Facebook’s user base would boost Microsoft’s market share.

“Where Bing social searches will be aided is actually in the Web searches conducted from the Facebook context, because we can infer intent, and that intent is different,” said Bill Hankes, director of Bing PR at Microsoft. “So let’s talk about mobile. If you conduct a search on mobile, your intent may be very different than if you conducted it on your PC. Because your mobile device… where you are, and what time of day it is, and if you conduct a search for “happy hour” or “Mexican,” you’re going to get a very different result than if you search on your PC.”

The more Bing reinforces its social component with increasing amounts of Facebook social data, the less likely we are to jump around to other sources (like Google) while putting together search queries.

Graph Search is a big deal for Bing and it could result in fresh exposure in the coming weeks and months.  And as users increasingly turn to the smartphone, tablet, gaming and connected devices spaces, Bing will reach new users and data points, all potentially tied to Facebook’s highly socialized content.