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Facebook On Social Search: 'We Want To Work With Everybody'

That was a statement Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in response to a question at the end of the Bing-Facebook press event today. He expressed openness to working with others (read Google or Yahoo) as a philosophical matter. I followed up with Brett Taylor, Facebook CTO and former Googler, about Zuckerberg’s remark.

I said to him: “If Google were to come to you tomorrow and say, ‘This is really cool, we want to do this,’ would you?”

Taylor in a very good-natured way explained that as a practical matter collaboration on this level with other search engines isn’t going to happen any time soon. He said that Facebook wanted to get this right with Bing first before considering implementations with other engines.

For background and more context on the deeper integration of Facebook content into Bing see:

Here are a few reflections and random thoughts and reactions to the event today:

Microsoft SVP Yusuf Mehdi and Online Services President Qi Lu spent a fair amount of time discussing how “social makes search better.” The catch phrase, which sounded a bit like the old Dow Chemical slogan, was “Better search with people.”

Certainly there’s great potential here. And a preview of even deeper integration of Facebook content throughout the Bing SERP was pretty interesting. For the rollout happening today there are two components: 1) Facebook profiles at the top of search results (people search) and 2) a Facebook module that will reflect relevant “Likes” (as in Like button) from  your Facebook network.

Two of the several examples discussed and shown today were pretty interesting: a movie title search and a restaurant search. In both cases friend comments were very relevant to the question of where to go for dinner or whether to see the movie. Those examples showed the value of exposing this information in search results very directly — a version of word of mouth. In one case a new restaurant was exposed that wasn’t among the top algorithmic results.

People search also seemed to be immediately improved by the inclusion of the Facebook data.

Zuckerberg spoke about the Bing integration as an instance of Facebook’s Instant Personalization capability. And Brett Taylor also characterized it more as “personalization” than “social search.” But everyone who spoke agreed that this was “version 1.0” and much more was to come.

One of the more interesting dimensions of the event today was the discussion of why Bing and Facebook make good partners, beyond Microsoft’s partial ownership of the social site.

Effectively Microsoft and Google reversed places in the world-view of the press conference: Google was the incumbent reluctant to mess up a good thing and Bing was the insurgent “forced to innovate” in order to compete. There’s basic truth there but it’s also very ironic.

Zuckerberg spoke at some length about how he sees Facebook and social as disruptive (citing several examples) and how Microsoft, the search underdog, is also being disruptive. Zuckerberg clearly has a sense of what the future of search should look like and social (Facebook) is at the center of that new search paradigm. Bing is much more willing to help Facebook pursue that vision — even though Google very much wants to make everything across its sites more social. In addition, Google and Facebook are more directly competitive than Microsoft and Facebook, even though many of Facebook’s current executives are originally from Google.

As an aside, there will likely be some familiar confusion around privacy and information sharing between Bing and Facebook:

  • What information is Bing getting from Facebook?
  • What information is being shared back to Facebook?
  • When and how will all this operate?
  • How do I turn it on and how do I turn it off?

This implementation is relatively straightforward. It requires consent (opt-in), uses only public information and can be entirely turned off. However every new product that Facebook offers seems to generate similar questions.

There is in fact something about all this that does look like the beginning of a new search paradigm. How will it affect Bing’s market share? Will it truly create a better experience for people?

It’s not going to have an immediate impact on Bing’s share and it’s unclear whether this, in the near term, will have a material impact on the search experience also. However in the longer term it could be quite radical.

Near term, I do think that inside our version of the “Beltway” or Siliconway (between 280 and 101) it does put pressure on Google to make search “more social,” which Google is trying to do. And long term I do think that the social graph will be an important and even central feature of the search experience.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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