Facebook Becomes the People Search Engine

Data released by Facebook today reveals that Facebook is indeed the “Most used people search engine on the web.” Does Facebook have any plans of going head on with Google? You bet! Last month I suggested that Microsoft needs to purchase Facebook ASAP if they want to gain in online advertising as well as search. People related searches make up over 30% of all searches worldwide. Facebook handles 500 million searches whereas Google handles 3.85 billion search queries. If we estimate that 30% of all searches are people related, that would mean 1.15 billion searches completed by Google are people related. That suggests that Facebook is completing a huge percentage of people searches worldwide. Whether or not they are the “Most used people search engine on the web,” remains to be seen. One is thing is for sure: Facebook has been self-declared as the people search engine. Aditya Agarwal states it clearly:

We have big plans to improve Facebook search in the upcoming months. We want to leverage the power of the social graph to further improve the quality of the results and ensure that you find what you are looking for on Facebook.

They are looking to become the number one people search engine on the web. What makes Facebook’s search engine unique is its ability to customize search results to each user based on their position in the “social graph.” Aditya gives a brief explanation:

Facebook search results are sorted by an approximation of social graph distance. People closer to you in the graph—your friends and people in your networks—are likely to be more relevant to you and thus are ranked higher. We also use this concept of “social proximity” to order results within applications like groups and events. Facebook search’s key differentiator is that search results are unique to every user because they are based on a individual’s place in the social graph.

It takes some serious algorithms to calculate social graph distance. When I was programming a social network a few years back I realized that this would be one of the key issues is performing searches. Friendster suffered greatly due to their inefficiencies in determining social proximity (and additionally their inability to handle scalability). Facebook has gracefully tackled this problem and has clearly stated their intentions to improve their search further. This is yet another area where MySpace has failed to seize a valuable opportunity. MySpace’s people search is one of the most inefficient systems out there. Now that Facebook has knocked MySpace out of the running in that area it is time to take Google head on.