There are seemingly countless ways that social data could be applied to search, and there has been significant discussion around how major search engines will integrate social into their algorithms and user experiences.
Already, Google and Bing have experimented with social features, and today, the latter announced even more social integration.
A post on the Bing Search Blog has the details:
Whether it’s making a purchase, choosing a restaurant or deciding what movie to see, our new Bing design offers unique ways to bring friends and experts right into the search experience. These social results complement the standard search results without compromising them, offering you the chance to start a conversation and get advice from your friends, experts and enthusiasts right within the search experience. We now show you which friends have liked or might know about content related to your query and will identify experts and enthusiasts that can provide recommendations on the topic of interest. You can also post a question and get help from your Facebook friends while you search, friends can easily see and reply to your questions on Facebook or Bing, and you can follow the activity feed to see your friends’ queries and posts in real time, never missing a beat.
The premise behind these new features is simple: as Microsoft sees it, “most things in life are better with people you trust.” So if that’s true, search results gleaned from data from an individual’s social graph should be useful much of the time.
To be sure, Microsoft’s new Social Sidebar looks nifty. In particular, the Friends Who Might Know feature is really interesting. Also interesting: the Ask Friends feature, which gives users the ability to ask their Facebook friends a question.
The big question, of course, is whether these features will actually help users more efficiently find the information they want and need. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land, for instance, demonstrated how a search for ‘costa rica’ suggested a particular Friend Who Might Know because that friend had previously posted photos of Costa Rica. In theory, this might make him a good person to talk to about Costa Rica, but it doesn’t mean that he has the information Sullivan is searching for.
In the case of the Ask Friends feature, thanks to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, there’s no way to predict which friends will view your question, and, of course, there’s no way to guarantee that anyone will respond with the information you’re looking for within an appropriate timeframe.
From this perspective, it’s possible to argue that Bing’s Social Sidebar is a good tool for identifying which friends may know something about something, and for more efficiently asking friends questions on Facebook, but it’s not really social search.