Social search: adding a ‘personal’ element to searching

Searching through Google has become completely ingrained in the way we look for information online. It provides search results based on a search term entered by the user. However, big search engine rival Bing and Facebook have recently tied up to create “social search”.

In a nutshell, this means that Bing will add “social signals”, based on people’s “Likes” on Facebook, to its search results. Users (provided they’re signed in on Facebook) will have the option of filtering search results by what their friends have “liked” on Facebook. For instance, when I search for “Dutch pancake places in London”, I will be able to see those restaurants “liked” by my Facebook friends. It’s a good way of ‘personalising’ my search results since a good number of my Dutch friends are likely to know a thing or two about pancakes.

Similarly, with the new “Profile Search”, Bing will return search results that have a greater “social proximity” to the user. Typically, when I search for “Pete Smith” in Google, I’ll get about 7 million results. With Bing’s new Profile Search, the results will have been filtered to show my Facebook friends and my friends’ friends, thus increasing the likelihood that I end with the Pete Smith I was looking for.

This new search functionality will kick in if Facebook users are logged into Facebook when they reach Bing or when they have “cookies” of data storing their basic Facebook information on their PCs or other devices. As a result, even when you’re not signed in (but have not unchecked the “keep me logged in” box) other users can still search Bing using your social graph. I can well imagine that this might lead to embarrassing situations in certain cases …

Even though I haven’t had a chance to test the new search functionality myself (Bing is looking for a UK release later this year), these are the things I’ve learned thus far:

  1. “Social search” adds a whole new dimension to search – It makes search results much more personal and relevant.
  2. The tie-in with Facebook sounds promising – Even though it’s early stages, this functionality has the potential to be extremely beneficial, both to users and brands.
  3. More privacy related issues are looming – With people becoming increasingly aware that an ‘online identity’ can be hard to shake off, the same goes for search results surfacing all kinds of personal information and content.

Main learning point: this link-up between Facebook and Bing introduces a new, exciting element to search. The ability to personalise one’s search results looks to become an important driver for search in the future. Some initial bugs still need to be ironed out, but I can imagine that future iterations of social search will revolutionise the way we search.

Related links for further learning:

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