Microsoft is introducing a phone-a-friend feature into its Bing search engine, allowing searchers to ask their Facebook and Twitter contacts to supplement information gathered by the search engine itself.
The new feature called Sidebar sorts through searcher's Facebook friends to identify which ones might have information valuable to the current search. It also lists Twitter accounts likely to hold answers, Microsoft says.
The new features won't be available for a while, but those who want to be notified when they are can register at www.bing.com/new .
With the new features when someone searches, they get the usual results that run down the left side of the page. A new center column called Snapshot lists sites that are relevant to the search but also contain action items. So if someone searches on Florida vacations, the center column might list airlines ticketing sites and hotel reservation sites.
A third column on the right called Sidebar lists Facebook friends who might be able to offer advice on the subject about which the search was made. So in the Florida vacation example, Sidebar would list friends who have added recent photos of their trip to Florida or whose postings indicate they traveled recently to Florida or who actually live in Florida.
Searchers can click on a friend's name and write them a query that will be posted on the friend's Facebook wall, where it will be visible to the friend's friends in accordance with whatever privacy settings are in place. For Sidebar to work, users must be logged in to Facebook.
These contacts are called Friends Who Might Know, but below that category in the Sidebar is a second category called People Who Know, based on data gleaned from Twitter. So in the case of the Florida vacation, People Who Know might include Amercan Beaches, the Twitter account of a realty agency that rents Florida beachfront property.
Microsoft says the results may be displayed differently on smartphones' small screens, likely off-screen and accessible by swiping.
The company says it is still testing the new features and will release them when it feels comfortable.
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