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Microsoft uses Facebook 'likes' to battle Google

The software giant taps Facebook, surfacing products and services in Bing search that have gotten a thumbs-up from a user's friends.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
2 min read

To make results more relevant, Microsoft is launching a new feature in Bing search that bakes in recommendations from Facebook friends.

The new feature, making its debut tomorrow, will elevate results that have received a thumbs-up "like" from a friend on Facebook. So if a user is searching for a Thai restaurant in San Francisco, for example, a particular spot that received kudos from that person's Facebook posse will climb in the results.

Microsoft, which likes to call Bing a "decision engine" to distinguish it from Google, wants Bing to mimic the real world, where people often seek advice from friends before making decisions. And while recommendation sites such as Yelp offer utility, they don't include insights from trusted friends.

Bing search results that include recommendations from Facebook friends Microsoft

"We're trying to infuse this idea of emotion into the decision engine," Bing director Stefan Weitz said. What's more, Microsoft is deepening its relationship with Facebook, creating a bulwark against Google, which dominates Web search. The Facebook partnership offers Bing searchers something they can't get on Google.

"They don't have access to the Facebook firehose," Weitz said.

Google continues to dominate search with 65.4 percent share in the U.S. in April according to ComScore, compared to just 14.1 percent for Bing and 15.9 percent for Yahoo, which uses Bing's search technology. The closest social recommendation offering from Google is its "+1" feature that gives users the ability to effectively "like" search results.

Microsoft estimates that roughly 3.5 million sites have "like" buttons. What's more, the company says more than 30 billion pieces of content--everything from news stories and blog posts to music links and photo albums--are shared each month. The companies didn't share data about how often users "like" products and services, the cornerstone of the new Bing feature.

The social recommendations will be most obvious in searches for products and services. Hotels, stores, and goods, such as electronics and clothes, will all rise in search results if a user's friends have clicked the "like" icon in Facebook. When those results pop up, they'll include a line that a specific friend liked the product or service along with a tiny thumbnail photo from their Facebook profile.

Bing will also elevate news articles in results if a Facebook friend posted a link to the piece on their wall. And when users look broadly in a product category, such as "thin laptops," review sites that focus on the category and have been liked by friends will surface in results.

The feature only works when a user is logged in to Facebook and Bing at the same time. Microsoft said that more than 60 percent of Facebook users have a Facebook tab open in their browser while online.