When Facebook goes public in the coming weeks, there will be a lot of winners. Among them is one of the stalwarts of the tech industry, Microsoft, which has a small stake in the company.
But Microsoft has an even bigger bet on Facebook through an alliance between its Bing search engine and the social network. And that partnership is about to get even deeper. On Thursday, Microsoft planned to introduce changes to Bing that it says will improve searches by tapping into the expertise of friends on Facebook and other social networks. The company hopes to mine people’s online social connections to provide more personal search results for everything from hotel searches in Hawaii to movie recommendations.
For example, if you are logged into your Facebook page through Bing, and you search for “best hotels in Maui,” you will get results with pictures of friends who have shared some affinity for Maui before on Facebook, whether by listing it as their hometown in their Facebook profile, liking the island on Facebook or posting photos from a Maui vacation.
“This is a fundamentally different way to look at search,” Qi Lu, president of Microsoft’s online services division, said in a recent interview in a high-rise building here, a few miles from its main campus, where its Internet operations are based.
The new version of Bing is the biggest overhaul to the search engine since Microsoft introduced it three years ago. It is the result of a continual conversation at the company about how to make Bing a more effective competitor to that other search engine – Google – and try to stem its considerable losses.