free html hit counter A Wish List for Facebook Search | John Battelle's Search Blog

A Wish List for Facebook Search

By - June 17, 2009

It’s taken a while, but I finally have time to rewrite the post I wrote this morning about Facebook search. For some reason my blog editor ate the post, something that has never happened to me and really threw me off.

In any case, this morning I noticed a post on Mashable about Facebook’s new “superfresh” search plans – in essence, a plan to make the Facebook newsfeed searchable, and most impressively, to filter that through your social graph. In short, this is a Twitter search competitor with a Facebook twist, and while I think it’s a fine move, it’s nowhere near where Facebook needs to be in terms of search, and it seems a bit myopic: Facebook is way more than its newsfeed, and its search play is key to proving that value, and extending it.

First, a minor rant. Facebook search circa 2009 is akin to Alta Vista search circa 1994, or Ebay search circa 2004: very dumb and entirely lacking in structured, intelligently parsed data. In fact, it’s worse that those two examples. It’s clear that there are almost no intelligent signals in the way Facebook does its internal search, and I can’t imagine anyone is happy with it. A few examples:

battelle search fbbook.png

Here’s a search for “john battelle status” as of today. There are no results. How on earth can that be? Not even a referral to my status updates? The engine clearly doesn’t understand the concept of “status” which on Facebook, seems a crime.

Here’s another one:

fbook graffiti.png

This is a search for “graffiti application”. It does not find the popular application, Grafitti, which has more than 10 million installs and over 2 million active users. Whaaaa?

I could go on and on, but that’s not the point. The point is, Facebook search could get a lot better. And I am *sure* the company is deep in planning on how to take its search to a new level – no small feat, given the size and scope of its service. No doubt building Facebook search today is akin to building Google ten years ago – bigger, most likely, in terms of data, algorithmic, and platform challenges.

So given the company is working on it, let’s give them some input. What do we want it to be? Here are a few ideas I have, I’d love to hear yours:

- Leverage the social graph in search. When people search for other people (most likely the highest percentage use case on Facebook), show me that person’s friends. Linked In does a very good job of search features like this, and is only getting better at it.

- Rethink how results are presented. Currently, it’s all about pages on Facebook. Why? Why not think about search results in a similar manner to how we all understand search – multiple results, easily scanned, with short descriptors of what the link will bring us? There’s a lot of room to innovate on top of this interface, but it’s table stakes at least.

- Make search social. Show me what others are searching for, trending searches on the service, popular “found” items. Search is a signal, use it!

- Make search results linkable. When I do a search on Google, I can link to it. Here’s a link to a Google search for “graffiti application,” for example. And yes, the first result is the right one…

- Give me image search. I want to see pictures related to the results – Facebook is a highly visual service, so surface that!

- Integrate Facebook Connect. How cool would that be, to see results from websites that have integrated Facebook?

These are off the top of my head (for the second time – I had others that I cannot recall…), but you get the picture. What do you want to see in Facebook search?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
  • http://www.mikesommers.com Mike

    I haven’t even read your post yet (waiting for it to be regurgitated, I suppose), but I’ll tell you that Facebook has the potential to become a more relevant search engine than Google, RIGHT NOW!

    Google’s web results are essentially “back fill.”

    What matters most to me (in most cases) is what my friends know about a given topic, not what google’s bots have found on the web.

    So when I search Facebook, it simultaneously searches what my friends have posted on a given topic, as well as what Google’s algorithm returns.

    So… in a worst-case scenario, you get Google… in a best-case scenario you get Google PLUS you get what your friends know.

  • http://feed.us Rick

    It’s going to be a separate search, me thinks.

    There will be the existing one, for people/fan pages/apps etc, and a new one.

    The old one is actually pretty terrific. It can find the person you’re thinking about remarkably easily. Google can’t do that because they don’t know which of your friends knows that person nor where you went to school, etc.

    The new search will search the “stream”. Status, links, videos, photos, etc. And it will be very similar to Twitter’s search.

    But they are thinking about advertising from the get go… I think the new search will be more about advertising than twitter.

  • http://blog.jumpintotomorrow.com/ Future Technology Lover

    If facebook were to have this function, it would be just like twitter. i don’t know if I like that

  • http://www.herkese-iphone.com/ iPhone

    I am *sure* the company is deep in planning on how to take its search to a new level – no small feat, given the size and scope of its service. What matters most to me (in most cases) is what my friends know about a given topic, not what google’s bots have found on the web. Google can’t do that because they don’t know which of your friends knows that person nor where you went to school or another. I can link to it. Here’s a link to a Google search for “graffiti application,” for example.

  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    Let start with the present tense. The current Facebook search sucks. The beta is an improvement, but John is spot-on in saying that “Facebook search circa 2009 is akin to Alta Vista search circa 1994″.

    Facebook certainly has access to some content that Google / Yahoo / Microsoft can’t lay their grubby paws on. But they’re also missing a lot–Google’s search logs, in particular, are a gold-mine, and Google gets the “stream” of searches in “real time”. Scare quotes just to remind everyone that neither Twitter nor Facebook have a monopoly on the present tense.

    I’m no Google fan boy (read my blog if you need to be convinced of that), and I see a lot to be improved in their approach. In fact, I think Microsoft has the right idea in positioning Bing as a “decision engine” positioning–if only Microsoft could actually deliver on that positioning. And I am interested in conversation as a signal, though I’m more intrigued by Topsy than by the native search Twitter and Facebook have produced.

    Folks, do your homework. And read posts before commenting on them. :-)

  • http://twitterjobsearch.com bill fischer

    Instead of trying to guess the ultimate utility of FB status search, the proper weighting of the social graph in the relevancy algorithm, and the best UI for SERPS, why not just set up an API and let thousands of developers guess and let the marketplace decide?

    Bill
    @williamfischer

  • http://twitterjobsearch.com bill fischer

    Instead of trying to guess the ultimate utility of FB status search, the proper weighting of the social graph in the relevancy algorithm, and the best UI for SERPS, why not just set up an API and let thousands of developers guess and let the marketplace decide?

    Bill
    @williamfischer

  • http://www.twitter.com/brosbeshow Gabe

    Facebook users are adding photos at a rate of 850 million photos a month, if they have a better UI/UE & search around photos, I’d give up my flickr pro acct. and never look back

  • Steven Schwartz

    I enjoy Facebook at its best as one of the most interesting cocktail parties I have ever been at. Secondly as adult show and tell. FB search has to be contextual to topic, image, or other media. Huge challenge since the data is not flattened. I would extend Bill Fischers suggestion and provide an API for developers to create and update their own contextually driven local sub-indexes.

  • http://miiget.labs.exalead.com/ Eric Negler

    It is interesting that companies always have to build these apps when they are available elsewhere. Are they trying to create IP or are they convinced (halo effect)they are going to revolutionize the social networking monetization model?

    People search with cool UIs are everywhere – here’s one:

    http://miiget.labs.exalead.com/

    Image search/recognition at such large volumes is really, really, computationally intensive (more and more servers, power and cooling). There are a number of third party products that can identify like images with a confidence interval over 50%.

    However it seems that building is always the default approach and there is little concern over time to market (or revenue).

  • Brendan

    Alright – here goes.

    Search Conversations! Millions of people discussing their thoughts on brands and products, companies and industries??? GOLD!

    Search on people could be improved. EG I search on John Smith – I can’t set up an advanced search to say only John Smith’s in my home town. I can filter by school/Uni OR Groups!! What If I don;’t know the school uni or group!?!? Pointless

    Image searches woul be good however I see that images are copyrighted belongings of other people and while there are a lot of decent recognition softwares around, I’m not sure I’d want people viewing my images.

  • http://just-digital.net Kevin

    Facebook is at the cutting edge for a lot of things, but especially in terms of web development. I am a web developer and I’ve built a micro search engine for a commercial site before – it’s pretty complex, but completely doable. Facebook has taken way too long to implement a proper search feature (accessing all parts of the FB experience) they must really be thingking hard about this one. Keep a close eye on this function – it’s going to revolutionise the way we search.

    • http://www.facebook.com/GlenTylerJennings Glen Tyler Jennings

      Facebook search STILL sucks three years since you have written this. I am trying to find this guy I just met at my university and I know his first AND last name spelled correctly. I type it in the search bar and don’t see the picture he said was his prof pic and I don’t see any pictures of him, so I click see more. It pulls up TONS of crap I don’t care about so I click “People” under search filters. It pulls up “people you may know” and no one even NAMED this guys’ first name.