Bing has reorganized its search results pages to incorporate the social element, but it really has a long way to go before the service evolves into something really useful for travelers.
Author: Dennis Schaal
Bing is all-in for its bet on social search, including for travel, and it is openly identifying Gen Y members as the search engine’s target audience.
In June, Bing fully rolled out its Facebook integration, and there also is a tie-in with Twitter and a dash of Google Plus.
“Our demographic is living on Facebook, for sure,” says Bing spokesperson Kari Dilloo, explaining that since a year ago Microsoft has decided that the search engine’s target audience is 18 to 34 year olds. “But, if we have a target, it doesn’t mean we are turning other people away.”
For example, if you are signed into Bing and link your Facebook account, when you search for “New York City” a dark gray column at right appears, showing not only your friends who have lived in the Big Apple, but also luminaries, celebs and experts who are supposedly knowledgeable about the city.
The People Who Know category comes with Bing pop-ups showing the Twitter accounts of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, restaurant critic Gael Greene, and shopping writer Wendy Lerman, for instance.
Occasionally, you will also see entries from Google Plus, and experts, celebs and possibly friends using Quora, foursquare and LinkedIn also will be plugged in, Dilloo says.
Starting a year ago, which was two years after Bing debuted, the search engine made a “major bet” on social search, typified by the Facebook partnership, and the social features now are offered through its mobile sites, as well, Dilloo says.
“We have learned a lot,” she adds. “We’re focusing on a target audience that will help develop that Bing habit.”
However, Bing hasn’t been all that habit-forming in its young history, and it has found it tough to influence Google’s grip on consumers.
Dilloo feels that Bing’s “open approach” in partnering with various social networks, including Google Plus, will be an effective way for people to do their travel research and planning.
Bing has nothing against dedicated social travel sites, Dilloo says, and people should continue to use them if they feel comfortable with them.
Asked why Bing didn’t also partner with social travel sites such as Gogobot or Wanderfly, Dilloo says the calculation included issues such as, “How do we make a safe bet on social networks that don’t go the way of MySpace?”
Travis Katz, co-founder and CEO of Gogobot, which counts Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors as an investor, calls Bings social search “a bolt-on measure.”
He argues that 80% of a Bing search results page features standard search results and the fact that the right-hand column might show that three of his friends have once lived in Paris doesn’t really help planning a trip there.
“To me it’s an incomplete experience,” Katz says. “If I’m trying to plan a vacation to New York, then finding Mayor Bloomberg’s Twitter account really doesn’t help me.”
Katz argues that the Gogobot experience, in which you can find out which hotels and restaurants your friends like best, comment on their Facebook walls and then have everything sync up to your iPhone, “is a much more specialized thing.”
“There’s a big advantage to having focus,” Katz says. “The way to search for travel will be different than searching for a Rihanna video.”
Christy Lui, director of marketing and co-founder of social travel site Wanderfly, agrees that specialization in travel search and planning are key.
“There is a need for niche communities within different verticals, especially when you are talking about high-intent and high-purchase types of categories,” Lui says.
“Bing is probably onto something,” Lui says, noting that Bing’s social search and social travel sites aren’t “mutually exclusive.”
“They have the scale and the resources to really blow it out,” Liu says, referring to Bing.
Not that social travel sites have proven that they are here to stay, as Dilloo of Bing implies.
Katz of Gogobot counters that Bing itself has something to prove on that front.
“One can easily ask the same question about Bing,” Katz says. “I don’t know how many hundreds of million dollars have been poured into that service. They haven’t gained much market share in search — let alone social.”