Facebook adds ‘search the web’ to typeahead results

By Brittany Darwell Comment

Facebook appears to be testing a new “search the web” function in its typeahead search results, Inside Facebook has found. Clicking the link takes users to another page within Facebook that includes Bing search results.

Facebook had previously allowed users to filter their Facebook searches by web results after clicking over to a main results page, but it hadn’t offered the option from the typeahead, which only included Facebook objects. Making it more efficient to search the web from Facebook’s search bar will give users an incentive to use Facebook search rather than going to a separate search engine like Google. This is increasingly important as Facebook introduces search-based ads called Sponsored Results. It is likely that users search most often for their friends and pages or apps they are already connected to, but if people begin to use Facebook search to find things they want more information about, as they do on Google, advertisers and users could find more value in the product.

[Update 7/25/12 3:31 p.m. PT - Facebook did not comment on the “search the web” feature, but pointed us to the Help Center, which includes mention of the typeahead results.]

As we wrote about last month, Facebook recently updated its search bar to include the words, “search for people, places and things.” This seemed to be a subtle, but clever way to get people to rethink how they use Facebook search. Most people currently use the search bar to find their friends, pages or apps on the site. The new addition of “search the web” could further help users realize that they can use Facebook search to navigate to areas outside the social network.

Last week we discovered a section in Facebook’s Help Center referring to “New Search,” though it was unclear whether this was related to Sponsored Results or legacy wording related to a past change. Facebook did not confirm what was meant by “New Search.”

Facebook first entered into a search agreement with Microsoft in 2008. Many have speculated whether Facebook would create its own search engine to challenge Google, but it seems the company is committed to partnering with Bing for the time being. Bing recently expanded its own Facebook integration with a new social sidebar. However, as more sites and apps connect with Open Graph, Facebook will be able to return increasingly relevant results from elsewhere on the web, organized by existing social connections. The company could ultimately create what might be better labeled as a “recommendation engine” than a search engine.

Facebook currently has three open positions for software engineers focused on improving its search capabilities. The job description includes the line, “You can help build the next-generation search experience for Facebook to help 800 million people around the world find what they’re looking for in a quick, fun, easy-to-use way.”