It’s not too audacious to say that the new Bing search features that Microsoft and Facebook unveiled today are going to upend the search business.
Until now, search algorithms have used machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict which of the billions of pages out on the Internet might be most salient to your search. Now, at least on Bing, they’re going to have access to something even more precious: the knowledge of who your friends are and what they like.
Among the features Bing is rolling out to users in the coming days is a module called "Liked Results" to its search results. Looking for information on that new Tom Cruise movie? On Google, your search engine would serve up the relevant pages it has calculated are the most popular. On Bing, as of now, it serves up the regular Google-style results and a module that shows you pages your friends have liked — including, for example, movie reviews. You no longer have to do the work of trolling through search results to figure out which of the pages might tell you whether the movie’s a hit or a bomb. Trust your friend Sara’s taste? Click on the page she Liked.
So what does this all mean? Here are a few takeaways:
1. Search just reached an inflection point. Google’s great innovation was to figure out how to deliver the most relevant search results, based on the assumption that a webpage that had a large number of other pages linking to it would be more interesting than one with fewer links. Google has built its search algorithms by continuing to troll large sets of data for other attributes that indicate relevance. Now, however, Bing can deliver results based on what your trusted sources of information—your friends and acquaintances—think. This is a giant leap forward. Among other things, it means that…
2. Companies have to focus on creating great customer experiences. Because when their customers go searching online—for a movie, a camera, a travel destination—their friends’ recommendations are going to be front and center. Launched a store that no one "Liked?" you’re not going to show up in the search results.
3. Search is going to look a lot different. Forget the list of blue links. As Qi Lu, the engineering lead for the new changes (and president of Microfsoft’s Online Services Group), said, once you introduce a social dimension to search results, you could actually start representing search results—visually—in new ways. He didn’t say what those might look like, but be prepared to see them soon, because…
4. We’re going to be seeing even more social elements introduced into Bing’s search results. And soon. Both Microsoft and Facebook said that today’s new features were just the beginning. It only took them two months to gin up the ones they released today. Which means more are going to be coming down the pike in the months to come. Which means...
5. Google may have to go back to the drawing board. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn't say they were shutting the search giant out. In fact, he said that, ultimately, the company would like to work with all players in search. But for now, it appears he's working solely with Microsoft.
6. You must master your Facebook privacy settings. Mindful of earlier criticism of Facebook’s handling of privacy issues, both Microsoft and Facebook went out of their way today to stress that users will retain control over what Facebook shares with Bing. The flip side is that users actually have to exercise the control that Bing and Facebook give them. Learn more about how to turn Facebook on and off in Bing here and about privacy settings here and here (you have to be logged into Facebook for those last two).