Facebook and Bing “Social Search” – Young Love?

You know what it’s like when you’re young and you fall in love. There might be a million reasons why it’s a really bad idea, there might be a million friends telling you not to do it, but you know better. And you know it will turn out just perfect. Everyone’s under-estimating you, but you can make this work.

I’m not implying that Facebook and Bing are young – that’s why they ought to know better. Because no matter how nifty this social search idea sounds in theory, surely the recent privacy rows have shown that people in the social media world DO still care about their privacy, and how much gets shared. Vociferously. And on that basis, this looks like a whole can of worms that Facebook and Bing are opening up together.

Bing and Facebook say that there is no privacy issue – “Bing can see no more about you than anyone who goes to your Facebook page”. In the sense that it depends on public “likes”, that’s true. But, although I am a fascinating person, I have my suspicions that my friends haven’t read all of my Facebook details. Or have only read the bits they’re interested in. Or read them once, then forgot. Now they’re going to have this stuff shoved in their face every time they search on Bing. With my name next to it. Think they’ll get sick of me? Or become sheep and like what I like? Or just try to turn the option off so that they can get on with their search? Yeah, I reckon the third one too.

There’s a “people search” option too. The results will be ordered based on whether you have friends in common. Again, this just seems a bit off. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not usually searching for friends on the internet. I meet new friends through other friends. If I’m searching, it’s probably for professional reasons. And I don’t necessarily want their Facebook page – nor do I necessarily want people who Google me to find my Facebook page first. I’d rather choose what I want to publicize, and what is more invitation-based.

The rows about Google Buzz, Google StreetView and ongoing Facebook concerns suggest that I’m not alone in this. It’s not that I don’t want to share information – I do – but I want to decide what I share. I want control enough to decide what’s public, friends-only or private. I want to decide which opinions I’m actively promoting, and which are simply available if someone is looking. In short, I want to be able to craft my image, not have a tick-box list of “me” that is published to the world.

Of course, there have been Facebook privacy rows many times over, and Facebook has still crossed the half-a-billion user mark. So will this make any difference? Hard to say at this stage, but I don’t think the prospects are good. A few options.

  1. Bing still doesn’t take off as a search engine. Partnership gets dissolved, experiment failed.
  2. Bing takes off, and a few embarrassing privacy incidents mean that it gets canned. Experiment failed.
  3. Bing does well, and makes it into public awareness. People, knowing that all their “likes” on Facebook are public, start to manage their information more carefully. They no longer share, or “like” as readily. Which leaves the market wide open for a new site with better privacy to replace Facebook as the place where people can be themselves. Can’t happen? Yes it can, and quickly, if the annoyance overcomes the effort of moving. It hasn’t – yet.
  4. Bing does well, and people have no problem sharing exactly what they like and dislike, and our accept the reduction in privacy for the sake of using Facebook and Bing together, because of the convenience it adds. If it does.

Hard to predict which of these will happen, but getting a few answers from Facebook users will help. Are you one? Here are the questions for you. First question – are you going to try it? Second question – does this give you any added benefit? Third question – are you happy for your likes to be shared this way, or would you opt-out?

It’ll be an interesting space to watch over the next few months. One thing’s for certain – in the fast-moving world of social networks, it won’t be long before we find out.

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