The Facebook Instant Personalization integration is really good news for Bing. It distinguishes their search engine from Google’s in a notable way and very much at the expense of the dominant player.
As Strong As the Weakest Link
Search results personalized to your social network have been attempted on Google, namely via an address book compiled from Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Buzz contacts, appearing as “social circle results.” However, in general, it has been a failure.
Part of the reason for this is that Gmail/Buzz wasn’t — and still isn’t — representative of most people’s social graph. Perhaps counter-intuitively, our e-mail contacts turned out not to represent our social network.
Consequently, Google Buzz has never reached the scale required to make social connections truly relevant to search.
An extremely important component was missing — actual friendship. You know, that emotional connection that elevates humanity above animals. I think the Beatles wrote a song about it.
Automatic For The People
During the Facebook/Bing integration announcement, Mark Zuckerburg shared an interesting observation from his university studies in psychology that news about other people is what humans are most interested in, by design. The subtext of which has huge implications for the relevance of search in general:
“[A” … huge amount of peoples brains are focused entirely on processing information about people. So, a lot of our visual cortex is designed to process faces and understand emotions and expressions that people make. We’re just hard wired to make it so that information about people is by far the most interesting kind of information we track in the world.”
Quite literally, the Facebook Bing integration slaps a human face on to search results, which human beings are “programmed” to compute. This means that, at any given time, when the Facebook layer is triggered over Bing search engine results pages (SERPs), we’re more likely to pay attention to results associated with friends, regardless of how relevant they are.
Put another way, our brains are designed to register the importance of our friend connections on an instinctual (or emotional level) faster than our rational minds are able to calculate relevance. This is hard wired to such an extent that even if the personalized result isn’t relevant, we perceive it before we perceive any incongruence between the content and our query.
This means that Facebook Likes will, in general, be perceived to increase in value as they steer attention towards and command more attention around any piece of content.
This isn’t just a hunch. As demonstrated in SEW’s own eye-tracking studies of SERPs such “hard-wired” behavior stands in stark contrast to traditional search results.
In the experiment conducted by Dominik Johnson, a surprising result was how much user attention Twitter’s search results pages commanded, despite an extremely poor signal to noise ratio. Users scanned the entire length of the page in line along the path set by avatar images.
The integration of Facebook into Bing will mean that users are more likely to read those results associated with their friends.
People Hate Maps But Love Treasure
Facebook open graph data is likely to have its biggest impact on Bing local results.
The local space is saturated with user-generated signal that is arguably declining in value. There are so many reviews, via so many aggregators and different listing verification companies that the average user is no longer able to assess their value.
Semantic data companies such as TrustYou have identified that problem and are rising to the challenge, trying to make sense of all the content, but they are still in their infancy.
However, most people using a map have immediate information needs and are looking for the strongest signals they can find to make their decision. What is the strongest signal that a venue passes muster? A thumbs up from your friends.
Facebook Open Graph data layered on maps is that signal and arguably as close as we can currently get to the phrase “X marks the spot.”