MSV Advancing Social Search
MSV Advancing Social Search Microsoft Research and Bing Social Put Their Heads Together

“One of the great advantages of working in Silicon Valley is that you are exposed to the newest ideas in the tech industry,” says Omar Alonso, Senior Development Lead at Bing Social. “But that also means you can never rest on your laurels. Just like going to the gym: you have to stay in mental shape.”

One of the ways that Microsoft Silicon Valley employees like Omar keep their edge is by getting deeper insight into the work of other teams throughout the company. He explains, “For some time now, Bing Social and Microsoft Research (MSR) have co-hosted a series of talks known as ‘MSR-Social.’ We get together, make presentations and have fun learning together.”

Both Bing Social and MSR have much to offer each other. Omar says, “Bing Social has unparalleled social data including Twitter, Facebook, and Quora. Never before has anyone had this kind of information.” On the other hand, MSR has new and innovative ways to look at such data.

Omar and MSR Principal Researcher Marc Najork started the series in 2010 as a way to initiate a more fluid conversation between Bing and MSR. Beyond keeping employees abreast of the newest developments, Omar thinks that the most important aspect of the talks “is to  provide a number of ‘spin-off’ projects at Bing and MSR that produce new techniques that made it back into the product at Bing and produce new research at MSR.” Current work areas include crowdsourcing, graph similarity, and detecting interesting content from social media.

The breath of opportunity and the depth of knowledge at Microsoft Silicon Valley were what originally attracted Omar to the company. “Prior to coming to Microsoft, I was fascinated by what Bing was doing with search and information retrieval,” Omar reminisces. “But I also knew what MSR was up to and that made Bing even more appealing. MSR is an immense resource.”

Although MSR has a more academic structure than the rest of the company, there are many PhDs at other teams in Microsoft Silicon Valley (Omar has a PhD from UC Davis). “We all have more in common than meets the eye: we have backgrounds in academia, have a lot of intellectual curiosity, and want to continue to explore big subjects,” says Omar. “And that’s not to mention that we all attend many of the same conferences.” 
 
And the circles go around. When Omar interviewed at Microsoft, the last person in his interview loop was Harry Shum who is now the EVP for Technology and Research for all of Microsoft. While at Bing, it was Shum who formed the group to work on social data.

These days, part of Shum’s mandate is to make sure that MSR is collaborating with product teams. “The great thing is that here our teams are already working together and we’ve been doing it for a long time,” smiles Omar. “That’s the best thing about Microsoft Silicon Valley. We work on the toughest problems with the smartest people. And we collaborate and learn from each other.”

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