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Originally published October 13, 2010 at 8:16 PM | Page modified October 14, 2010 at 6:20 AM

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Microsoft's Bing, Facebook forge social-search friendship

Facebook has friended Bing with a partnership to make search social, giving Microsoft a strategic advantage over Google as social networking continues its creep across the Web universe.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Facebook has friended Bing in a partnership designed to make search social.

The move gives Microsoft a strategic advantage over Google, as social networking continues its creep across the Web universe.

The agreement combines Facebook's "like" function with results from Microsoft's search engine Bing, so that when Facebook users search for something on Bing, they will get results that friends in their social network have tagged with a "like."

Observers have been waiting for a search mash-up with social networking, and this is a step in that direction. It also means search results will be tailored to each user.

Bing searchers will be able to see what movies, restaurants and products their friends recommend.

Facebook profiles will also become part of Bing's People Search, including options to send messages and friend requests to them. The ranking in results will be determined by degrees of separation on Facebook.

The two companies announced the social-search partnership at a news conference Wednesday in Mountain View, Calif., with Microsoft Online Services division President Qi Lu and Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The new service started rolling out Wednesday but will take several weeks to reach all Bing users.

"What we see is the Web is going way beyond a Web of documents to a Web of the world," Lu said. "Now we have digital representations of people, places, things. Piece by piece we are literally building a digital version of society."

Here is an example of how social search will work. A search for "Seattle steakhouse " in regular Bing shows results from restaurant sites and some directories. With the new social search, there will be a box in the results that will show restaurants the searcher's Facebook friends have indicated they like.

"For Microsoft, it simply can't afford to ignore a service that has 500 million users," said Rob Helm, managing vice president of research at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm in Kirkland.

"It's also important because Microsoft has just reached the point where it's mastered the old forms of communication like e-mail, and now on comes Facebook introducing new forms," he said.

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The social-search results turn up when searchers are logged in to Facebook; they can choose to opt out.

Microsoft says Bing will give the user five warnings about the connection between Facebook and the search engine. After that, users will have to search where to turn it off.

Facebook says Bing will not send information about user searches back to Facebook.

"Is Bing sending data back to Facebook? The answer is no," Zuckerberg said.

Helm said he had privacy concerns: "I don't know that I'm crazy about sharing that information with Bing."

The partnership deepens the relationship Microsoft has had with Facebook since 2006, when the social network had 7 million users.

In 2007, Microsoft invested $240 million in the social network. Facebook now has more than 500 million users.

Zuckerberg had high praise for Bing on Wednesday.

"They really are the underdog here. They're in a structural position where they are incentivized to go all out and innovate," he said of Bing. "They're trying to gain share by doing awesome stuff that nobody has done before."

Facebook said it appreciated Microsoft's ability to move quickly on the partnership.

The two companies began working on the search partnership two months ago.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

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