Not too long ago, Google and Bing seemed fully focused on adding as many social features to their search engines as possible. For Google, that meant adding lots of Google+ features and for Bing it meant making the best out of its exclusive relationship with Facebook. Since then, though, it seems the two search engines’ strategies have changed, with Google slowly deemphasizing social search and Bing going all in by adding more social features than ever.
Bing Now Emphasizes Social Search
Bing, in its early days started out as a ‘do engine,’ as Microsoft liked to call it. Thanks to its acquisition of Powerset and in-house expertise, Microsoft had all the requisite knowledge to actually answer people’s question on Bing beyond just showing them the usual 10 blue links. The focus during those first months of Bing was on providing instant answers for queries related to topics like sports, finance and music. Lately, however, Bing’s focus seems to have shifted toward its social sidebar, where Bing shows you relevant status updates and links from your friends on social networks like Facebook, Quora and Foursquare.
Google Slowly Demotes Social Search And Focuses On Its Knowledge Graph
After social search become the hot topic in the late 2000s, it almost felt as if Google panicked. Even before it launched Google+ last year and “Search Plus Your World” earlier this year, the company started cluttering its search results pages with social search results in 2009 (that’s so long ago, Google even showed results from FriendFeed back then…). Most of Google’s “Search Plus Your World” features are still happily sitting on its search results pages today, but it’s hard not to feel as if the company has started to pull back on its social search strategy a bit.
Google’s focus these days, it seems, is squarely on its Knowledge Graph – a project that feels more like the realization of Bing’s early promises than Google’s recent obsession with social search. The Knowledge Graph, which is featured prominently on Google’s search results pages, is now taking precedence over social search, which has been slowly demoted over time. Instead of emphasizing social search, these results are now highlighted with an easily overlooked gray icon. The ‘share’ feature has also been deemphasized and now only appears after you hover over a search result.
Instead of social search, it actually feels as if Google’s emphasis has shifted toward ‘personal search.’ Just a few months ago, after all, Google started a field trial that uses the sidebar to prominently show you search results from your Gmail inbox and Google Drive. Bing, on the other hand, uses this space to focus on social search and what your friends and other experts say about a given topic. Today, when you search for a band or musician on Google, you’ll get a bio, links to upcoming concerts and YouTube videos and other info in the sidebar. Bing often shows some of the same info, but it’s randomly distributed in between the regular search results (to be fair, it often does a better job with movies than musicians).
Right now, it definitely looks as if Bing is moving more toward social search and Google is more interested in semantic search, though both, of course, continue to offer a mix of both. Which one of those you prefer is a matter of personal preference. I never found a lot of value in social search, but most of the data I’ve seen says that highlighting social signals do influence people’s decision to click on a link or not.