Posey's Tips & Tricks

Bing Injects Social Networking Into Internet Search

While Brien had some preconceived concerns with mixing social networking with an Internet search engine, Bing's newest update left him pleasantly surprised.

A few days ago I was watching TV (which is a rare occurrence) and saw a commercial for Bing. The commercial advertised that you could involve your social network in your searches. My first thought upon hearing that was that social searches were an incredibly bad idea. I could just imagine how some of my more mischievous friends might try to hijack my searches. If given the opportunity, certain friends (you know who you are) would no doubt turn an innocent search into something really filthy and then redirect the results to my mother. I also imagined certain friends chastising me for searches related to my religious or political beliefs. Never mind that there are certain searches that should really be kept private. I mean do my friends really need to know that I am searching for a flight or shopping for a bank to refinance my house?

Even though social searches seemed like a nightmarish scenario there is no denying that social networking has become the norm. So I decided to give Bing's social search feature a try to see if it was indeed the total invasion of privacy that I had imagined --  or if there was something to it.

My first clue that things might not be as bad as they seem is that Bing doesn't seem to automatically latch on to your social networks the way that so many other sites do. You have to make a conscious decision to connect to Facebook or Microsoft Live, and you have the option of disconnecting at any time.

Once I had connected Bing to my Facebook account I tried a search to see what would happen. Since I tend to travel extensively I decided to search on the phrase Boston Hotels. When I hit Enter, I received all of the usual search results, but there was also a bar on the right side of the screen that had a section called "Friends Who Might Know." Beneath that heading it said that my friend Kristy likes the Holiday Inn.

In my opinion, this aspect of social searches has real value. The search engine essentially said that a trusted friend had not only been to Boston, but had a specific hotel that she liked. Even though I don't typically stay at the Holiday Inn when I travel, I might actually consider it in this case just because someone that I trust liked the hotel.

Of course you may not always be able to take a recommendation at face value. I have seen a number of advertising campaigns from various companies advertising a discount if you like them on Facebook. Therefore, the places that your friends like might not necessarily be places that they really do like, if you know what I mean. Besides, we all have those friends who click the "Like" button on absolutely everything that they see. As such, you have to consider who is making the recommendation.

One aspect of my search results did surprise me. One of the reasons why I chose to search on the phrase "Boston Hotels" was because I have a lot of friends who live in Boston. I had assumed that the search results would be filled with results from people who live there, but that simply wasn't the case. After doing a bit of digging, I found out that Bing doesn't show people whose privacy settings on Facebook restrict public sharing. Even though that aspect might limit the effectiveness of a social search, it is nice to see that there are mechanisms in place to protect online privacy. Out of curiosity I tried searching on a different city and did indeed receive a list of friends who live there.

So what about my paranoid concerns about hijacked searches and invasions of privacy? Well, as it turns ou,t Bing doesn't publicize your Internet searches unless you want it to. For example, even though I searched for Boston hotels and Bing pulled information from Facebook, it didn't publish anything on Facebook telling the world that I was searching for a hotel room in Boston. Of course that isn't to say that you can't involve your social network in a search.

If a friend appears within your search results, you can click on a link next to the friend's name if you want to directly involve them in your search. There is also an "Ask Friends" field that you can use to ask a question of your entire social network.

After spending a little bit of time with Bing's social search, it seems that Microsoft has done a good job in implementing it. Although there are undoubtedly some problems with social searches (such as friends who "like" things that they might not necessarily like), I think that Microsoft is on the right track. I can actually see myself using Bing's social search in certain situations.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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