Big news on the technology front yesterday, as Microsoft's Bing search engine announced a package of coming upgrades that includes the new Bing "social sidebar,"


POLL: Would You Get Hammered Like an Old Lady at Bing's New Social Sidebar?

Big news on the technology front yesterday, as Microsoft's Bing search engine announced a package of coming upgrades that includes the new Bing "social sidebar," which is either something halfway cool sounding that just might stand a chance of finally making Bing relevant in its search-engine battle royale with goliath Google ... or is just some new wine bar for cheese-loving old ladies.

Yes, judging by its name, the Bing "social sidebar" could very well be a place for powdered and blossoming grandma types to enjoy fruit and cheese plates while getting totally tanked in the middle of the afternoon. Or, if you want to be nice and give the name the benefit of the doubt, the Bing "social sidebar" could be a pretty nifty spot to sip bourbon: warm, close-quartered and inviting to professional alcoholic types. Hell, it could even be your run-of-the-mill chicken-wing joint.

But, sadly, after reading the official press release I'm pretty sure the Bing "social sidebar" is simply an integration of the user's social networks in the Bing search process - kind of like Google's "Search, Plus Your World," except broken into a separate column, and not reliant on the basically pointless Google+.

According to descriptions, the new Bing search engine format - which will be "rolling out over the coming weeks and broadly available in the U.S. in early June," according to Microsoft (you can be a fanboy/girl here) - is divided into three columns. The column on the left displays typical search engine results. The middle column displays things that people might do associated with what they're searching for - like maps for directions, for instance, or restaurant reviews for the restaurant they just searched for.

Microsoft Press Release
A preview of Bing's new "social sidebar."

The column on the right is the Bing "social sidebar" where information culled from a user's social networks - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like - will be available for the user to browse. For instance, if one of your friends has "Liked" a particular pho place that came up on your Bing search for pho, you'll be able to factor that into your decision.

It sounds pretty cool. The press release elaborates:

The new "sidebar" feature is designed to do just that. When searching for a particular subject, a list of Facebook friends who may know about that topic is displayed in a light-gray sidebar on the right-side panel of the results page. "So if you query 'Hawaii,' user models in the network look at public information in your profile such as where your friends live or have lived, what they've liked on Facebook, and photos -- and turn up a list of people who likely have information relevant to your query," says Sandy Wong, principal development lead for Bing. "You'll still see search results for Hawaii within the traditional Web search results. But now you'll also be able to consider the advice of your friends who may know something about Hawaii."

Users can post a question and include Web links to get input from the friends Bing suggests, and friends can respond on Facebook or Bing, offering recommendations to help with the search. "The goal is to surface the people who have knowledge about a particular topic," says Connell. "We want to make it easy for people to accomplish anything they set out to do by allowing them to tap into the wisdom of their friends and of the broader Web - the 95 percent of things people know but never write down."

Microsoft's budding business partnership with Facebook is largely credited with making the Bing "social sidebar" possible. And so far, the development is getting positive reviews.

As was noted in a piece in the Seattle Times:

"Bing just pulled half a car length ahead in the race," said Oren Etzioni, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington. "As far as I know, Google doesn't have comparable capability to this level.

"I think," Etzioni said, that Bing "is showing that it's something that's an important differentiator."

Boom. Or, Bing, I suppose.

Naturally, while overall the development seems exciting, Microsoft's press release is heavy on the mumbo and jumbo, using evocative wordsmithing to make the Internet feel like something other than the cold wasteland of useless data, porn and botched, fruitless searches that it is.

More from the release:

Microsoft today unveiled a major update to its Bing search engine that fundamentally transforms the way users search the Web. The update, the most significant since Microsoft launched Bing three years ago, is designed to help users act quickly by taking advantage of the Web's evolving fabric.

And ...

"Increasingly, the Web is about much more than simply finding information by navigating a topically organized graph of links," says Qi Lu, president of Microsoft's Online Services Division. "We're evolving search in a way that recognizes new user paradigms like the growth of the social graph, and will empower people with the broad knowledge of the Web alongside the help of their friends."

Got all that?

Still, the question remains ...

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