Topsy Brings Us One Step Closer To Social Search, Where's Facebook?

This afternoon Mike Arrington posted about a new search engine called Topsy. The new service is built on the back of Twitter’s API and combines information like retweets, and general user influence to produce relatively accurate search results. It uses a similar algorithm to the one I suggested Facebook should use back in January. Since then, Facebook has made little progress in regards to search, at least that’s publicly known.

While the company is actively developing new products and improving existing ones to help people communicate more effectively, search doesn’t currently appear to be part of the company’s primary vision. That doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t one of the fastest growing search engines in the world. As I wrote back in September, Facebook has 173 million searches and was growing at a quick pace.

That volume could have easily doubled by now but is still distant to Google’s 10 billion monthly searches at the time. 173 million searches would substantially underestimate Facebook though. With approximately half of the users returning to the site daily, it would be surprising to find that those users aren’t searching for their friends and applications. With over 225 million active users, Facebook should easily surpass 1 billion queries a month.

Regardless of the company’s existing search volume, search results are still notoriously horrendous. Just last weekend I went searching for an individual and couldn’t find them until I narrowed down to a specific network despite us having over 45 friends in common. Facebook has an ocean of structured data to sift through but only a portion of that data is being leveraged in their current search algorithm. Then again providing relevant search results could be more of a challenge than it’s currently worth as the company’s databases continue to overflow with vast amounts of personal data.

Twitter has been regularly taking the spotlight when it comes to social search recently but when it comes to the social web, Facebook is still the most dominant force. With that said, the real question is whether or not the company will begin expanding their search functionality or if Twitter will continue to be the go to place for “socially relevant search” (not people search as Facebook is already the clear winner there). While the Microsoft agreement may be the current impediment to search expansion, there’s no doubt that the company is working on something.

Back in March of last year, we interviewed Aditya Agarwal, Facebook’s Director of Search Engineering, during which he explained a little about what the search team was focused on. At the time Aditya stated that, “My team works to understand a marketer’s placement in the entire graph, and how they might fit in search results that are influenced by the ‘localized area’ of the social graph for a particular user.”

Facebook’s task is a big one and while Twitter may be searching through simple messages and links (in a way that’s somewhat similar to Google), Facebook is organizing widely distributed data which makes things much more challenging. I’m still left wondering what Facebook’s next public step will be in the race to conquer social search. Do you think Topsy provides effective search results? Is social search the answer to making search more relevant?