Facebook’s big mystery event today turned out to be the announcement of the social company’s debut as a (sort of) search engine. Facebook will be rolling out a new feature for users called Graph Search, which in part owes thanks to Bing. Facebook and Microsoft have worked together for a number of years, with Microsoft investing $240 million in Facebook back in 2007, and the social network has been tightly integrating with Bing search for awhile now.
According to a blog post by Derrick Connell from the Bing Team, Facebook engineers worked with Microsoft’s team to integrate the two services together. Now, when users search for people, places, and things using Facebook’s search bar, the results will be shown alongside Web results courtesy of Bing. Say you are searching “Italian restaurants in New York,” you will see Facebook Pages matching that description on the right-hand side and on the left there will be Bing search results for things like maps and making reservations. Basically, if information can’t be found using Graph Search, Facebook uses Bing to answer your query.
“We have a great partnership with the team over at Microsoft, and this [union of Bing and Facebook] highlights the difference between Graph Search and Web Search,” Mark Zuckerberg said at the event. Let’s emphasize that one more time: Web search via Bing and Graph Search via Facebook are different functions and produce different results.
We already covered how incredible this new feature will be for users (i.e.: finding that link buried in your News Feed or that specific photo in an old album). For the first time, you can add context to your searches – searches like “People named ‘Chris’ who went to Stanford University.” So what’s in it for Microsoft? Well, if the billion-dollar marketing campaign hasn’t made it obvious, a lot is riding on the success of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Strengthening its alliance with Facebook only sweetens the deal for users considering the switch.
That means Microsoft needs to act fast and ensure the new feature will make for a smooth experience on its new platforms. If Microsoft has the leverage, it might be time to ask Facebook for a native Windows 8 app. Though we’ve known for a long time that Microsoft and Facebook are fond of working together, today’s announcement really illuminates the unique position Microsoft finds itself in. If it plays its cards right, deeper Facebook integration could be the key to the success of Windows 8.
Still, there’s some friction here: Bing has been at the forefront of social search, thanks to Facebook, and now Graph Search is revolutionizing that way we approach the concept altogether. It’s a different product and approach, absolutely, but it’s treading on some of the groundwork Bing has been laying. Apparently, that’s all well and good with Bing — probably because if Graph Search turns into the hit many think it will be, then the eyeballs the tool will end up sending Bing’s way will be invaluable. For instance, while you might use Graph Search to find what Thai restaurants your friends have been to, Bing will provide the technology for booking the restaurant (or Jay-Z tickets, as Bing’s example shows at top).
No doubt Google is looking on in jealousy, comparing the number of Google+ users to Facebook’s gargantuan total and shedding a few tears. The reigning champ of search engines, Google did its best to socialize search with Google+ and it has worked up to a point. However, Bing is managing to make searching more social in a much larger and more substantial way by tapping into the magic of Facebook. No matter how much Google would like to deny it, seeing how many of yours friends “Like” something on the Web still carries much more weight than a “+1.”