Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

Summary: Human beings will create 1.8 zettabytes of data in 2011. Search can longer keep up. See why social is the answer and how Bing has better data than Google.


Web search remains the heart of the Internet. It's our near-universal homepage. But, increasingly, it fails to deliver results that were as useful as they once were, for two reasons:

  1. The shear volume of web data continues to rise at a brutally quick pace
  2. SEO is being used to manipulate search results with subpar content to turn a quick buck

Google has been flailing throughout 2011 to try to fix the second issue (see Panda fiasco). As for the data volume issue, Bing director Stefan Weitz insists that there's one big answer for solving it: tapping social.

"The infusion of the social signals into search is the next generation of search," said Weitz.

That won't surprise anyone. In fact, Google finally recognized this in 2011 with the launch of Google+ and its tight integration into Google search. However, while Google views social as a layer that adds value on top of its search, Weitz and Bing view it as an central element of the future of search. And, what most people don't realize is that Bing already has more and better social data than Google because of Bing's strategic partnerships with Facebook and Twitter.

"The infusion of social data is not a gimmick," Weitz said. "Literally, without it, search is not going to scale."

Weitz cited the oft-quoted statistic that throughout all of human history up until 2003 we created 5 exabytes of data (five billion gigabytes). We now create that much every day. In 2011, we'll create 1.8 zettabytes of data (a zettabyte is a 1000 exabytes). That's up from 1.2 zettabytes in 2010, and we'll be creating over 20 times that by 2020.

In trying to scale to meet this data explosion, "our search engines themselves as getting creaky" said Weitz. "We rely on people to do things every day. Today's search simply doesn't take that into account. It's completely mathematical... It's been in the current stagnation for the past 12 years."

While Google has been busy working on building Google+ as its social tool, Microsoft has quietly gone out and cut partnership deals with Facebook and Twitter and started integrating their social data into Bing search results. For example, if you do a search on Bing and you're logged into Facebook in the same browser then the search results will show which of your friends have liked a certain page. See the example below:

"The Facebook integration is pretty cool. It brings in your friends to every query," said Weitz. "We built Bing as this 'decision engine' thing." Right now, the endgame for social on Bing involves taking Twitter and Facebook and "embedding those people into the decision flow," Weitz noted. This is becoming more important as people turn to social networks more often for asking questions, as illustrated in the chart below, which is based on a Bing survey.

Weitz didn't hesitate in stating that Bing is ahead of Google in terms of powering search with social. He said that Bing has better social data and is more deliberate about integrating it. He also said that Bing has a lot more social integration coming soon. Inside Microsoft, the Bing division now has a new headquarters at the company's Bellevue campus, has an international team working on refining search, and has a special team working on social integration right in Google's backyard in Mountain View, California.

Earlier this year, Bing reached 30% market share of all web searches among U.S. users. Will social be the key to unlock more gains against Google?

Sanity check

Bing may have a leg up on Google in social today because of the Microsoft deals with Facebook and Twitter, but you also have to keep in mind that Google is going to have more control over its social-search destiny by building its own product. It won't have to worry about partnership deals going bad or having to ask its social partners for additional API access. Google can just make it happen.

On the other hand, social is all about the people. And while Google+ is off to a great start, Facebook and Twitter still own the social graph today and will for years to come. That gives Bing a strategic advantage for the next stage of web search, for now.

Sidebar: Bing's Twitter and Facebook deals

Here's the timeline of Microsoft's Twitter and Facebook deals involving Bing, based on information from Microsoft:

Oct. 21, 2009: At Web 2.0, Qi Lu, president of Microsoft's Online Services Division, announces a new beta feature that enables people to easily search Twitter's real-time information feed within Bing. The feature helps customers to more fully understand the conversations taking place in Twitter by showing the most popular links people are sharing via Twitter and revealing the comments from the most authoritative users about those links. The feature refines the real-time feed by removing duplicates, links to adult content and tweets containing spam.

Feb. 5, 2010: Bing announces an expansion of its global search alliance with Facebook. As part of the new global agreement, Facebook customers searching for Web content on the site are presented with a fully integrated Bing experience, allowing them to more easily search the Web and make better decisions. Microsoft also no longer represents Facebook display advertising sales in the U.S. as part of its ad network offering.

April 13, 2010: Bing announces the limited release of Twitter integration into Bing search results. More specifically, Bing pulls in social content generated on Twitter to surface the most relevant updates quickly following a breaking news event. Bing analyzes what topics are generating the most interest on Twitter and surfaces the latest and most interesting content. It also utilizes Twitter data to bring customers the most popular shared links for navigational queries.

Oct. 13, 2010: Bing announces a deeper alliance with Facebook, offering a more a personalized search experience for people who use Facebook and Bing. The new features are available when an individual is logged into Facebook while searching on Bing and include Facebook profile search and "Like" results. Bing is the only major search engine that can search public "Like" information and surface it to friends, providing a personalized search experience for each customer.  We intend to build upon this alliance to provide a more personalized and improved search experience in the future.

May 17, 2011: Bing announces an expansion of the integration of "Like" results to include not only pages and links liked by a person's Facebook friends, but also results related to trending topics, articles and Facebook fan pages. Facebook Profile Search capabilities are enhanced to return more detailed information when searching for a specific person on Bing. Additionally, social results are integrated into Bing travel and Bing shopping, allowing people to get help from their trusted friends when making decisions online.

Sept. 6, 2011: Bing and Twitter announce they will extend their alliance, allowing Twitter's fire-hose to feed into the Bing real-time search feature.

Topics: Browser, Google, Microsoft, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

    Once again proving that Bing is the better search engine. Google who?
    • So you'll be able to search all those worthless tweets that nobody reads

      wow, that's useful!
      • Well it'll keep him inside...

        ...away from the tricycle.

        lol... :D
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      I've been saying all along that Microsoft's data collection efforts are very creepy. Google does what anyone would expect. Collect data when on their website and allow you to delete it also (Google Dashboard). Microsoft has not only been collecting data from their sites, but also from partners (some of whom happen to be the biggest data miners on the internet) all while providing absolutely no transparency about it.
  • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

    ZDNet writes, "Bing, Bing, Microsoft, Bing. Bing!"
    LoveRockDavidson replies, "Bing, bing, bing. Bing-Bing! Windows, Bing, Microsoft."

    I don't speak "MS Fanboi", I wonder if Google has something that can translate?
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @Socratesfoot you will find an unusually large population go Microsoft fanboys on ZDNet. /just ignore the more blatant ones, and you will enjoy the pseudo news site more. I personally do not read ZDNet fir news, but fir entertainment. ;)
      • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

        @Rick_Kl Not really, it's the same for all the internet. You find just as many Linux and Apple fanatics as well.
      • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

        I doubt it since Apple and Linux don't have the deep pockets to pay shills to come on here full time.
  • If you're a tween looking for the latest gossip about Justn Bieber ...

    I guess "social search" is the tool for you. If you're trying to find truck maintenance depots in Warsaw, Facebook and Twitter aren't going to help you out.
    terry flores
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @terry flores
      Trucker's in Warsaw aren't on Twitter and Facebook?
      x I'm tc
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @terry flores Yeah they do.
      • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win


  • if bing wins

    it will be for one reason and one reason alone: the billions and billions of dollars ms was willing to lose to "compete".
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @oneleft One thing you have to remember though is that Microsoft is not judging Bing just on the basis of whether it is making money as a standalone. They are integrating it into all of their products and are judging its success partially on how Bing helps those products.
  • Question:

    What exactly are these people searching for that current web searches can't find? If I can't find exactly what I'm looking for in a page or two, then obviously I chose a badly worded query.

    Sure, we might be creating x zettabytes of data a year, but how much of that is inane babble that is barely literate? Sturgeon's Law.
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @Aerowind It's not as much about finding somthing as it is about trusting what you find. Social helps the good stuff, as judged by ones friends, bubble up and get noticed.
  • Bing needs to fix basic search

    They need to understand the meaning of words.

    Let me give you an example:
    [First tesco in Thailand]

    Now to understand this query you have to know that 'first' refers to a concept the earliest/quickets/soonest etc. It's also an obscure phrase, so watching users of your toolbar and tracking what they type into Google won't help.

    So we throw this at Google, ideally the first snippet should give me my answer:
    2. "Tesco first moved into Thailand in 1998 by buying a large stake in the Thai-owned Lotus chain of convenience stores"
    Second answer, should be top, room for improvement but there it is.

    1. "The Tesco name first appeared in 1924" (Wikipedia not specific to Thailand)
    2. - second entry is another search engine!
    3. - a site about the tesco domain (spam)
    4. Press release about tesco (sadly not about it opening stores in Thailand)
    5. Advert for food tasting tours
    6. Tesco investor article
    7. "Tesco Lotus will spend heavily on a low-price campaign "
    8. Wikipedia clone
    9. Mr. James Scott, Tesco
    10. Tesco rolls out clubcard in Thailand

    Not so good. If I type the same into Wikipedia search I'd get a better result.

    What they need is more like Siri for text. A comprehension of the query, not just the words in the query.

    As for social search, you mean indexing Facebook and Twitter? Why pretend its a different class of search and not just an extra data set?
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @guihombre Ummm... I just tried your search and I got very different results. Please try again (both Google and Bing had wikipedia first) and let me know if you see the second entry about the first Tesco Lotus Extra store. It has the same corporate link that google does although it lists fourth for them.
      • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

        @Dodgson1832 But- some people only see what they want to see; accuracy not required...
    • RE: Search can't scale without social, and why Bing could still win

      @guihombre <br><br>Just tried your search:<br><br> First tesco in Thailand<br><br>Both Google and Bing return Tesco's Wikipedia article first.<br><br>Google's second item returns when Tesco first entered Thailand by buying Lotus (~1998). (#5 in Bing)<br><br>Bing's second item returns when the first Tesco Extra store opened in Thailand (July 2011) -- (items 3, 4, and 5 in Google).<br><br>Incidentally, it appears as though you are looking for historical data in which Wikipedia would be a fantastic source and listed first in both places. Why shouldn't it be first? More importantly, if you were looking for the Tesco Extra store then Bing got you there in 2 and Google got you there in 3.<br><br>In one case it's a draw in the other Bing actually wins.
      Rich Miles