Do your Facebook friends Like enough?
News last week that Microsoft's search engine, Bing, has started showing specific Facebook Likes in its search results had us wondering if our friends are giving the virtual thumbs up to enough online content.
Facebook has 9.2 million users in Australia and 600 million worldwide. With this vast community endorsing anything from an advert or a video to a Facebook status update or a company page, the potential for genuine social search results is quite exciting.
The example Bing gave on its official blog made perfect sense. I'm looking for somewhere to stay in Napa Valley and some of my Facebook friends have liked a particular guest house, so now I see their profile pictures on the results page.
But does the average Facebook user Like in significant enough volumes to make this feature truly valuable?
For social search to make your life easier, you not only need enough friends, you also need those friends to get clicking on Like buttons when they see content they're willing to endorse.
Getting an average number of Likes per Facebook user has proven rather difficult, but we can take a steer from the number of Facebook pages people have given the nod to.
You can see the pages your Facebook friends have Liked by clicking on their Info tab. A quick straw poll in the office puts the average number at around 60. Facebook caps the number of pages a user can Like at 500.
This number will of course be amplified by your number of friends. If you're particularly popular (or less fussy about who you accept invites from) you'll have significantly more friends than average. But taking the average friend count – around 140 – we can work out the total number of pages that your community has Liked: 8,400 pages.
That seems quite a lot, but of course, these are unique Likes and if they're your friends there's a good chance some of them will have Liked the same stuff.
The real value in Bing's enhancement is beyond Facebook pages. More and more websites are adding Like buttons to article, products and other on-site content. This is where the Napa Valley example works and you could certainly see it applying to something like news content, as social bookmarking sites have previously demonstrated.
Bing is not alone in using social signals in its search results. Google had a social search announcement of its own last week and has a range of sharing tools from Reader to Buzz. There is also evidence that social media 'equity' in the form of retweets, mentions and content sharing already impacts on search results. Certainly an interesting space to watch.