The search engine wars took a dramatic turn yesterday, with Google and Microsoft both announcing real-time search deals with Twitter. Additionally, Microsoft struck a deal with Facebook to index status updates on its Bing search engine, and Google introduced Social Search, which integrates your friends' social networking information directly into search results.
All of this means that the "10 Blue Links" to which we've grown accustomed could be changing in a big way, and the ways we use social networking could change, too. I'm left with some questions on how this will affect consumers, but I'll try to piece together what I can from what we've learned:
How will all this stuff work?
You can try the beta of Bing's Twitter search now. It's similar to searching on Twitter itself, but you can see the top links being shared, which is useful for tracking down hot stories. Microsoft hasn't been specific about its Facebook integration plans, and Google has been similarly cagey about how Twitter integration will work when it launches "in the coming months." Google did, however, show off Social Search: if you're using Google Profile and have friends in Google Contacts, a Web search will bring up results from FriendFeed and other social networking service, mid-way down the page.
What's the benefit for consumers?
With Twitter, Google sees utility in "real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort," while Microsoft says it wants to keep tabs on "all the latest chatter," such as breaking news, celebrity gossip, and sports talk. These are different philosophies, and how you benefit will probably depend on what you personally like or dislike about social networking.
How will Google and Bing add value to Twitter and Facebook?
In other words, how will searching on Google and Bing be better than using Twitter and Facebook directly? Much of that remains to be seen, but so far, I like how Bing is pulling up top links from Twitter searches. I'd like to see more things along that line, where data is used in clever ways instead of merely indexed for searches.
How will privacy be protected?
Microsoft told the Telegraph that it has to be "very careful about making sure the correct data is streamed," because not all Facebook data is public. I don't know how challenging this will be, but a single snafu could be catastrophic. Google and Microsoft will have to be equally careful with Twitter users who've locked their status updates.
Can I opt out of indexing?
There are two ways in which a user might want to opt-out of this whole ordeal, by not seeing Twitter and Facebook results in searches, and by not contributing their own status updates to the data pile, even if their profiles are public. Google and Microsoft, from what I've seen, haven't publicly addressed these issues.
Will this create an archive of tweets and status updates?
It's not clear how Google will handle Twitter data, but Microsoft says Bing will only store search data for a week. I wouldn't be surprised Microsoft adopted the same mentality for Facebook, treating status updates as disposable information.
How will Google and Bing filter out the junk?
I bet Microsoft and Google are wondering the same thing. Bing's Twitter search does let you arrange results by the number of followers a person has, but will Facebook search stack results by a person's friend count? Also, should bogus trends like RIP Kanye West be snuffed out? I'd say "yes," because it's false information, but then you're not painting an accurate picture of the chatter. These are tough questions that Microsoft and Google will have to answer as they wade into social networking.
Will people who hate this stuff have to see it in their searches?
Microsoft doesn't say whether Twitter searches be shown outside of a dedicated section of Bing, and we don't know how Facebook will be treated. It's a big question mark for Google's Twitter integration as well, though we do know that Social Search results for Google Profile users will appear mid-way down the page. I imagine both companies will want to play around with their treatment of social search results, depending on how people use and respond to them.