At its Menlo Park headquarters on Tuesday, Facebook unveiled its take on search, the social giant’s major push into helping its users find content from within Facebook.
For as big as Facebook has grown, something like this has been sorely needed. More than one billion people are on Facebook’s network, with upward of 240 billion photos and more than a trillion connections within the social graph. For anyone looking for a specific topic of information, place or person, that’s a lot of stuff to sort through.
“Indexing all this content and making it so you can find it easily is a really hard problem,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “Graph search is designed to take a precise query and return to you the precise answer.”
What does that mean? Essentially, Facebook wants to make it easier for users to find stuff from within a user’s network of social connections, without having to exit the site. A search box topping the page prompts you to enter a search string that returns information relevant to your network.
The thesis is this: Web search is about returning links to keywords and phrases. Google made its impact serving up the most relevant Web sites based on Page Rank. But Facebook’s Graph Search is built on the idea that you’re better served by finding content that’s been shared within Facebook. It’s your network of social connections, after all, and the philosophy is that you’d rather see things from that network.
The search paramaters are all about the stuff that circulates inside of Facebook — namely, content. Games, videos, pictures and people. Enter a phrase like, “games my friends play,” and you’ll get a list of content spit back out at you based on the connections that you’ve already made within Facebook.
Sound familiar? That’s because it is — Google is trying to do this exact same thing with Search Plus Your World. The way that Google+ works, if you or your friends +1 content on Google+, it’ll show up within your Google search results. The idea is, adding that social element into the mix makes users more apt to click on the content.
But Google’s problem is that Google+ isn’t as widely adopted or used as much as Facebook is. Facebook has the one-billion-strong network of users to suggest content to one another.
This also bodes ill for companies like Yelp, Foursquare and even the small startup Path, all of which aim to serve up recommendations to users based on their history of ratings, “Likes,” visits, etc. That’s problematic for these smaller companies, all of which work on vastly smaller data sets than Facebook’s gigantic network.
Looking for something that isn’t on Facebook? There’s an answer to that, too. Facebook has partnered with Microsoft’s Bing search engine to serve up any Web content that isn’t shared within the social network. Yet another slap in the face to Google there.
But ultimately that isn’t Facebook’s goal. Facebook wants to keep users inside Facebook to find things. The more stuff we share, use and look for inside of Facebook, the less often we’ll have to leave the network.