Microsoft's Consumer Electronics Show booth at the 2011 CES in Las Vegas (Getty)
McLean, VA (written by Dennis Schaal/Special for USA Today) -- People like to consult with friends and family when making travel decisions. So Bing, Microsoft's search engine, has integrated Facebook and Twitter to enhance the process.
Bing, No. 2 to Google in the search-engine sweepstakes, acknowledges its target audience is the 18- to 34-year-old crowd that spends a lot of time on social networks. To tap into that, Bing revamped its search results pages for what it calls "search plus social."
It fits a trend of people using the Internet or favorite mobile apps for planning vacations, researching hotel stays or seeking restaurants. It's the socialization of trip planning.
Google, for instance, has introduced local business results spiked with feedback from your friends in Google+. TripAdvisor's Cities I've Visited app for Facebook lets you engage friends who've visited various destinations. And Gogobot, Wanderfly and Trippy are among a growing assortment of "social travel" sites.
For Bing's social search, you sign into Bing using Facebook Connect to link your accounts. Bing's results pages are divided into three columns: From left to right, they are paid ads and organic search results, paid ads and recent searches, and a dark gray, social column with Facebook and Twitter input.
The sections of the social column include Facebook friends who might know about your search topic, and experts and celebrities outside your networks who supposedly have information about your query. There's an activity feed that lets you post questions, links from Bing about your trip, and questions and answers your Facebook tribe members have posted about myriad topics.
My verdict on Bing's social search is mixed.
If you use search engines such as Bing, incorporating advice from your social networks is an improvement. And Bing has partnered with the most popular network, Facebook. It plans to add others.
Google, in contrast, sticks to its own social network, Google+, for imparting local advice. This reduces the chance for social interaction in trip planning because the Google+ audience is smaller than Facebook's.
Bing's social search falls short in what it delivers for travel planning, however.
For example, a Bing search for "New York hotels" in the Friends Who Might Know section shows five Facebook friends - three who have lived in New York, one who has lived in Newark, and another who "likes" Brooklyn.
It doesn't mean they have expertise about Manhattan lodging choices or have time to be my travel adviser.
The People Who Know section, where Bing is to serve up New York hotel experts from Twitter, was empty.
In a merely Bing search for "New York," the People Who Know section gets filled with links to the Twitter accounts of Tim Tebow, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and restaurant critic Gael Greene.
Tebow's latest tweet about a college football trivia game doesn't help with a search of the Big Apple. And Bloomberg's tweet about a family-planning initiative won't help plan a trip.
Bing's social results for my "Paris vacation" query were more vacuous, perhaps because of my lack of friends who have signed into Bing and Facebook. Bing listed no friends who knew something about the topic and offered no experts from Twitter with advice.
In the Bing activity feed, I posed the question: "Is it not worth going to Paris in August with everything shut down, or is it a cool time to go?"
Within minutes, a friend in Marseille replied on my Facebook timeline and in Bing that it was a good time. A friend in Virginia suggested on Facebook that "you would see so much more waiting until the fall."
Bing's social efforts are new, and spokeswoman Kari Dilloo says Bing will learn from consumer feedback.
J.R. Johnson, CEO of Trippy, says Bing's efforts are a step in the right direction but that consumers can get better results from a "a site that specializes in all the nuances of social travel rather than a broad-based search platform with some social bolted on the side."
And if you want travel advice from friends and family, you can always pick up the phone or send an e-mail.