Bing, Facebook Partnership Part of Microsoft Strategy

By David Sims May 18, 2011

Qi Lu, Microsoft’s president of online services, spoke recently at the firm’s New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in what industry observer Gregory Huang called  “a sweeping and ambitious vision for how Microsoft plans to create the future of the Web, amid the rise of fast communications (Twitter), social networking (Facebook), local deals (Groupon), search capabilities (Google and Bing), and mobile app stores (Apple).”

The future of the company is online, Huang says, and “two years after the Bing rollout, it might be now or never” for Billy’s Bunch. And, Huang says, Facebook is key to Microsoft’s future.

“Whether he meant to or not, Lu tied Microsoft’s social strategy pretty tightly to its partnership with Mark Zuckerberg’s company. He hinted that social recommendations from trusted people in your network could become an important source of how Microsoft (presumably Bing) helps people make decisions in ‘a digital version of the world’,” said Huang.

And as if Microsoft coordinated this stuff or something, this week the results on Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, are going to look more Facebooky.

Full disclosure: We’re Googling news reports, not Binging them, and are not currently logged into Facebook. Instead, in an almost poignantly ironic tableau, we’re reading about Google and Bing duking it out for #1 on Yahoo! Poor, forgotten Yahoo!, abandoned by Lu and all the really cool people.

Bing is “increasing its emphasis on the recommendations shared within Facebook's online social network,” the Associated Press has reported, adding that “Bing's search results will vary depending on whether the person making a request is logged into Facebook's online social network at the same time.”

Industry observer Brennon Slattery says “When the partnership was formed it seemed meaningless and redundant. After all, if you're checking Facebook and Twitter several hundred times a day, do you need your friends' updates appearing in your Bing search results? Where's the value in that?”

The way the AP explains it, if you put in a search request for, say, great Texas country rocker Robert Earl Keen, Bing would stick a link to him “to the fourth or fifth page of results if the query came from someone who wasn't logged into Facebook at the time,” whereas “that same link might appear at the top of Bing's first search page if the query were made by a logged-in Facebook user and a few friends in the requestor's social circle had pressed Facebook's ‘Like’ button on the site.

The AP reports that Bing's formula “also will consider how many times Facebook's more than 500 million members have pressed on a Web page's ‘Like’ button to help determine the content's value and relevance.”

Computerworld quotes Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, saying “it makes sense for Microsoft and Facebook to try to surround Google. Right now, they're not competing intensely with each other, but they're both competing fiercely with Google. Of course, they would do this.”

The Bing-Facebook alliance is further strengthened with such features as letting online shoppers using Bing post links about products and services directly to their Facebook accounts, and Microsoft, which owns 1.6 percent of Facebook, delivering “notices about discounted travel deals on people's Facebook pages, based on the cities they have said they liked.”

Facebook has enacted barriers to keep Google's search engine away from their estimated 30 billion pieces of content shared each month – the “walled garden” phenomenon.

One wonders if it’s more business sense or more personal antipathy driving the anti-Google crusade in Redmond. As the AP reports, Bing is doing better – 14 percent of the search market, up from 10 percent not too long ago – but “remains a financial drag on Microsoft, whose online division had suffered an operating loss of $1.9 billion through the first nine months of its current fiscal year.

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David Sims is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TechZone360 here.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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