On the same day in which Facebook acquired FriendFeed, the company has just rolled out its new real-time search engine for all users.
With the new Facebook Search, which is still accessed by entering search terms in the box on the top right of any page, users will now see the latest status updates and shared content from both friends and all users who have made their profile open to everyone – in addition to more static types of results like applications, pages, notes, and groups.
For example, here’s what real-time results for “Iran” now look like:
Facebook Search is now directly competitive with Twitter’s real-time search engine, which the company recently made more prominent for new users. However, the new Facebook search differs from Twitter in two important ways:
- Updates from your friends, which are usually not public, come before updates from everyone.
- All updates contain rich content in-line, from videos to music to thumbnails of shared links.
It’s important to note that updates from friends are usually private, and not on the public timeline. Although today Facebook is making public timeline search available for the first time ever, it is still prioritizing this new form of social search above searching the public timeline. Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Inside Facebook that the future of Facebook lies in a hybrid public/private sharing model, but we’re still in the early days of seeing the ways that Facebook can leverage the social graph in providing more relevant search results for time-sensitive or research-related queries.
As Facebook engineering manager Akhil Wable writes,
By being able to search more types of content that are being shared on the site, you can easily find out your friends’ evening plans and recently frequented restaurants by searching for “dinner,” discover which of your friends are following Michael Schumacher’s comeback during the “Formula 1” season by searching for the race series, or query “economy” to see if people or your favorite news sources feel that the recession is turning around. You also can search for a company or product to learn what people are saying about that brand.
However, the launch of public timeline search is still an important step forward in the evolution of Facebook’s search services. Now, marketers and analysts will have another tool to monitor conversations on Facebook in addition to Facebook’s Lexicon tool, which only shows trends at a very high level. Facebook started allowing users to open up their profiles to everyone in March, in an attempt to better serve users who want to share their updates more openly as opposed to using Facebook’s robust privacy controls.
Web results from Microsoft are also included (at the bottom of the page) as part of Facebook’s search partnership with Microsoft, who also owns a 1.6% stake in Facebook. However, Microsoft is not contributing search technology to the new Facebook Search.
APIs Critical to the Future of Real-Time Search
But as we wrote recently, APIs are critical to Facebook’s plans to dominate real-time search. Today, hundreds of third party applications and monitoring tools are built on top of the Twitter Search API to keep tabs on product mentions, hot trends, and consumer sentiment. Given that Facebook has at least an order of magnitude more active users than Twitter, Facebook should be able to return much larger and broader data sets to marketers and journalists. In addition, since Facebook has much deeper data on user identity, it should be able to provide even richer types of aggregate real time search data if it so desires.
The consumer search applications are also clear. Facebook has the potential to displace Google and other search engines for queries on content discovery, product recommendations, news, and more. While Google makes a living inferring authority from links, Facebook will be able to infer authority from shares and social proximity. This is data Google largely doesn’t have access to (at least, full access to). If Facebook were to make it easier for users to do real time searches from a variety of applications and devices, it could become a more significant search player in the future, which in turn could drive substantial new revenue streams for the company.
Nevertheless, the full launch of real-time and public timeline search today mark an important step in Facebook’s evolution. Though it’s still very early in the evolution of Facebook’s search product, the company is increasingly committed to investing in search infrastructure to bring the vision of social search closer to reality – which could increasingly threaten Google and Microsoft’s search dominance.