Before the internet, who would you ask if you were looking for advice on which movie to see or which book to read next? You’d call up some friends to get their advice. It combines word-of-mouth marketing (for businesses) and the benefits of asking for advice from the people whose opinions you trust.
And then came the internet. And search engines. Suddenly, you didn’t need to go ask your neighbor for some new ideas for preparing chicken or for getting oil stains off of the garage floor. You could swing over to AskJeeves or Lycos, type in your question, and get thousands of instant answers.
Search engines didn’t change this model of business for years. They focused on having the very best results possible, taking users away from the social aspect of discovering new things and receiving advice. Eventually, however, search engines realized that there is a certain amount of trust between friends and family that they’re never going to beat. If Google is telling you one way to do something, but your expert friend is offering different advice, you’ll probably go with whatever your friend is suggesting. Social search, including the suggestions of an user’s friends, is the latest thing in search, with each major search engine including social results in their own way.
Of those, Bing is the first to let search users ask their friends directly. Their Social Search feature allows users to sign in with their Windows Live ID or Facebook account and then ask their friends for help with a question. This is great for people who are looking for a new restaurant idea, a movie recommendation, or for advice on where to buy a product. Any query that you want input on, you can type it in and choose the friends you want to ask. Bing will even show you a list of your friends who are most likely to have an answer for you. You can also post your question right to your Facebook wall, instead of only asking a few particular friends. If none of your friends can help with your question, you can also use the “People Who Know” feature. While you can’t directly ask them, Bing will lead you back to their websites or social profiles, where you can look to see what those experts say on the topic. For example, if you’re looking for movie reviews, Bing will send you Roger Ebert’s Twitter page.
Bing is also letting people share their searches with their friends. If you have friends searching for answers to similar questions, you can choose to let Bing show the sites you felt were most helpful. Also, if you or any of your friends “Like” a certain page on Facebook, a small thumbs-up graphic shows up next to that search result.
Bing isn’t the first search engine to introduce social search, but they are doing it in a way that other search engines aren’t. It really is a very social experience, for those who want to get the advice and opinion of their friends while searching. And while it’s still not as social as actually calling up a friend for some advice, it’s about as close as you can get while still using the internet.
Have you tried Bing’s Social Search, or have you seen other friends using it on Facebook? What do you think?