October 14, 2010 2:27 am

Microsoft deepens Facebook search ties

Microsoft’s Bing search engine has begun showing US users which products, restaurants and movies their Facebook friends like, deepening a four-year-old alliance between the companies against their shared competitor, Google.

The move announced on Wednesday has the potential to improve the search experience because the results will be influenced by the opinions of people whose insights the individual values, instead of mass popularity or algorithmic guesses about the worth of web content.

“This is the long-awaited ‘social search’ that I’ve been talking about and waiting for years,” wrote Charlene Li, analyst at Altimeter Group.

Bing, which is the No 3 search engine behind Google and Yahoo, became the fifth and largest user of Facebook’s “instant personalisation” service, which tells partner websites when a Facebook member arrives.

When one of Facebook’s users – who number more than 500m worldwide – visits Bing, a box appears greeting the person by their Facebook name and announcing that the search results have been enhanced with data about what their friends on the social network have indicated they like. If they do not click “no thanks” during four Bing sessions, the new information begins appearing.

As the same thing happens even if people are searching Bing anonymously, some users might be taken aback by the idea that their search engine and Facebook are sharing information about them.

But what they are seeking will remain secret, and Bing will only import Facebook “Likes” that have been set for public display.

The new function kicks in if Facebook users are logged in when they reach Bing or have “cookies” of data storing their basic Facebook information on their PCs or other devices.

For many searches, Bing will show its traditional links along with a small Facebook module in the middle or at the bottom of the first page of results. The modules contain one or two links, which will indicate how many Facebook friends liked the item and giving a few of their names.

Microsoft and Facebook executives said the initial phase proved immediately useful in speeding such tasks as finding a local steakhouse or picking a movie to see.

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