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A Bing pillow

At launch, Bing’s social sidebar, the right-hand section that surfaces Facebook activity and other social content related to your queries, was a tacked-on gray blob that did little to make search any better. Today, following cosmetic and content improvements, the number two search engine’s solution to socially enhanced search doesn’t look so bad.

Old social sidebar

Above: Old social sidebar

Microsoft’s Bing announced Tuesday that its social sidebar, first introduced in May, has received a makeover to make it more functional. The idea is to better direct searchers to social network friends who may have the answers.

The ugly, separated gray bar has been replaced with a white-washed area labeled “Social Results” that now blends with the rest of the content of the page.

The section still includes potential subject matter experts from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Klout, but finally shows off their relevant content — photos, “likes,” updates — inside the bar instead of forcing you to hover over their name to see what they’ve shared. The seemingly pointless “ask friends” Facebook prompt has also been stripped from the experience.

New social sidebar

Above: New social sidebar

I first noticed the design and content changes yesterday when checking out Bing’s enhanced snapshot middle section. The social sidebar actually grabbed my attention for the time first, because it contained eye-catching photos from my Facebook friends — photos I didn’t know existed. The photos and extra Facebook content did not influence the end result of my search experience, but the refreshed sidebar did make Bing a more welcome, warm and fuzzy place.

In my opinion, the sidebar changes still aren’t radical enough to inspire people to make the leap from Google to Bing anytime soon, but they certainly supplement search results better than the old sidebar did.

Bing Social’s principal group program manager Chris Rayner said that the changes will be rolling out to Bing users over the next few days.

Photo credit: betsyweber/Flickr

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